New state laws seek to clarify, expand student rights

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Schools must have a legitimate reason to demand students provide their social media passwords under a bill signed into law this week by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Chief sponsor Rep. Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, said his bill — HB 3527 —  strikes a balance between student privacy and school districts’ legitimate needs to investigate problems such as bullying.

“There are still different ways to get that information,” he said. “What they can’t do is to ask for that password and go off and use that password on their own,” he said.

Brian Schwartz of the  Illinois Association of Principals said the measure appears well balanced.

“We think it’s a much better bill and a much better law and will allow building-level administrators to investigate violations of school district policy but still allow (for) and protect kids privacy,” he said.

Fortner’s measure defines and clarifies a reasonable-cause requirement, whereas earlier legislation was sometimes being cited as justification to implement blanket policies.

Under the new measure, a school would now need reasonable cause — such as report by a victim, parent or witness — before entering students’ social media spaces to look for information.

“There should be a real event going on before demanding private passwords, otherwise it’s just fishing without cause,” Fortner had said.

The new act takes effect immediately.

Another piece of legislation signed by the governor, Senate Bill 100, requires schools to provide viable explanation for expulsion before taking such action against a student.

The statewide standards set by the new law are similar to those in Chicago Public Schools banning “zero-tolerance” policies that trigger suspensions or expulsions.

The bill also also prohibits fines and fees for misbehavior and ensures schools communicate with parents about severe disciplinary measures.

The group Voices of Youth In Chicago Education said that with this law “suspensions and expulsions become the last resort, rather than the first response.”

The was the only educational group on record as opposing the bill. It sought more language to help ensure a safe learning environment in Illinois schools.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, goes into effect in the fall of 2016.

Illinois News Network journalists Greg Bishop and Cole Lauterbach contributed to this report.

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