SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A new state law taking effect Jan. 1 allows Illinois schools to punish students for “bullying” that occurs outside the school day.

The News-Gazette reports “a harassing Facebook comment posted on a Saturday could just as easily land that student in the hot seat on Monday morning” as something that happens within the school’s walls.

Now, it won’t matter where or when a student bullied another – schools will be empowered to “take action against bullying.”

Current state law forbids students from “online bullying” when they are inside a school or using district-owned technology. The new law eases that qualifier and now if a student is sitting at home, the school could pursue them.

School districts are also required to update their disciplinary policies to address bullying that cause an “interruption” to the school day.

Not all school leaders are happy with the new law. Some fear it could create a new burden for districts.

“It’s really a situation where you would hope schools would deal with bullying, no matter when the harm happens, but if it’s happening off school grounds and it’s not tied to the school, then there’s always the question: Should it be handled by someone else?” Darren Loschen, principal of Armstrong Township High School, tells NBC 5.

Tuscola High School will soon be launching an online forum where students and parents will be able to report bullying incidents “discreetly.”

“The forum is a good way for people to share information and let us know what is going on without us having to get it second-hand. If we know about what is happening, we can more easily address it,” the school’s social worker, Katie Hatfield, tells the News-Gazette.

“We are starting it in January — partially because of the new law, but mostly because it is the right thing to do. We really try to focus on prevention with issues like this.”

She says anyone filling out the form will have to answer specific questions, such as when and where an incident occurred, who knows about it, who was involved and whether the bullying was physical, emotional or threatening.

Complaints can be filed anonymously or a name can be shared.

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