Long gone are the days where mean words on the playground are the only way to land a student in the principal’s office. The latest generation of students has sadly produced an entirely new level of bullying. In spite of this, the law has not conformed with the evolving technological advances by offering protection to students and school districts to the same degree.
New York has defined Cyber-bullying as, “the repeated use of information technology, including e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, chat rooms, pagers, cell phones, and gaming systems, to deliberately harass, threaten or intimidate others. Unlike physical bullying, where the victim can walk away, technology now allows for continuous harassment, from any distance, in a variety of ways.”
Often when cyber-bullying occurs, parents are the first in line to attempt to tackle this issue. Parents’ first instinct, and thus their first call, is many times to the school. Unfortunately, parents sometimes overlook the social repercussions for their child under these circumstances. The school is then left straddling an unclear line in offering guidance to the parents and punishment to the “bully,” all while trying to protect an emotionally harmed student. This is the point in the road where cyber-bullying often turns into a messy situation, as it is impossible to fathom a solution with a favorable outcome for all.
There is No Absolute Solution, but…
School districts should first focus on prevention. At the very least, an effective prevention program should minimize cyber-bullying occurrences. For effective program results, all students must be informed of all aspects of cyber-bullying. In particular, students should know how to identify it, what to do when they do identify it, and the repercussions that will result for both the bully and the student affected.
An effective prevention program can come in just about any form. For example, the school may select an older student to communicate this information. This type of implementation would be most effective where the school determines that an older student is in the best position to relate to the students in communicating the message and points the school wishes to make. On the other hand, an authoritative figure might be better suited in a different school environment. The point is, it does not matter how the students become informed, it is that the students are informed and it effectively prevents cyber-bullying.
Next, it is important to understand that prevention will not fix 100% of the problem; therefore, school districts should have a proper protocol in place for when cyber-bullying is seen and/or reported.
Consistent with observing and reporting cyber-bullying, implementation of an effective plan should stretch from students to school employees. For proper implementation to work, the school district should determine whether it supports school staff and student connections on social media. While some districts may support it, others should be aware that this opens an additional door to liability, i.e., if any employee observes cyber-bullying via their social media connection with a student, they are effectively on notice, and are required to report the incident.
Technology has developed programs, which aid in the education of students across the board. Unfortunately, even with the educational benefits, school districts cannot turn a blind eye to cyber-bullying.
Cyber-bullying is an undeveloped area of law, and as seen in recent media stories, has led to devastating results. The key to controlling and limiting these occurrences rests on not only the district, but also the ability of all the district’s employees and students to “buy-in.”