An article in a South Florida newspaper reported that legal actions resulting from schoolyard fights are rare, quoting a school board official as saying that matters are usually resolved before things get that far. The date of the article: February 1991.
A lot has changed in the 20-plus years since that article ran. Today, schoolyard fights frequently lead to courtroom battles, and students who at one time might have been sent to the principal’s office are now finding themselves under arrest. It is common for kids 14 or 15 years old — even as young as 6 or 7 — to be charged with felony battery, stalking, sexual assault, disorderly conduct, and other serious crimes. Incidents occur in locker rooms, in schoolyards, in cafeterias, on school buses, and in a venue that barely existed back in 1991: cyberspace.
The Florida legislature passed an anti-bullying law in 2008 that included a prohibition on so-called cyberbullying, defined as actions intended to demean, dehumanize, embarrass, threaten or cause physical harm to a student or employee of a K-12 public school through the use of a computer or computer network within the school system. However, the law was designed as a basis for school policy and funding, not as a criminal statute.
That has not stopped police from arresting youths on criminal harassment charges for taking aim at classmates via the Internet. In one recent case, two Naples-area girls, 15 and 16 years old, were arrested on felony charges of aggravated stalking of a minor younger than 16. The girls thought it would be funny to create fake Facebook accounts for their victim and fill them with sexually explicit photos and content. The Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI task force brought into the investigation, were not amused.