5 Ways Educators Can Intervene in Cyber Bullying
While reading Judge Tom Jacobs’ book, Teen Cyber Bullying Investigated, I was startled. Several times, I put the book down to ponder what it means to be an educator today. Educators in America must tread carefully, else they get dragged in the mud by students.
It is my opinion that students are exploiting some of the grey areas of the First Amendment to deal public embarrassment to educators and administrators. It is distasteful.
Here are the lessons I learned from reading the book. Pass them on to your colleagues, if they make sense to you.
Lesson 1: Always Consult Legal Counsel Before Making Suspensions
In a good number of cases, the decisions made by educators were reversed or revoked by courts. School administrators walk a tightrope- balancing the safety of the entire institution with a threat from one or a few students.
No matter how delicate the situation, the administrators must act cautiously and also with guidance from the district counsel. Failure to do so, they may end up like Mr. Gobert, Principal of Green Castle Middle School in Indiana, 2006. The courts decided in favor or 14 year old “A.B,” ‘s constitutional rights to speak strongly against Mr Gobert.
Lesson 2: Students Don’t Shed their Constitutional rights at School ‘s Gate
Often referred to as the Tinker Test. It dates back to 1965 Tinker Case involving four Tinker kids who expressed their opposition (by wearing arm bands) to protest the Vietnam war on a school campus.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided that school officials must tolerate student speech “as long as it does not substantially or materially disrupt an educational environment.”
Before you make a major decision regarding a student’s abuse of new media, ask yourself this question: Can I prove the Tinker Test with this issue? It is a litmus test.
Lesson 3: Beware of on-Campus vs off-Campus
With some exceptions, the laws are generally more sympathetic with students who abuse their personal or home Internet services . On the other hand, if they abuse school Internet resources, the schools have stronger grounds to take action for violation of school policies.
In 2008, the court decided that even though Avery Doninger of Connecticut, had updated her Livejournal blog from home, it was considered on-campus speech because it called for outside influence on a school matter. She had used the blog post to fire tirades against school officials for striping her of her desire to run for a school leadership position.
Lesson 4: Outdated Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)
A school may have a good case against an errant student, but it must also prove that it had a current policy or regulation that reflects a Web 2.0 offense. Unfortunately, not all schools have updated policies that include or mention emerging teen issues like flaming, cyber chalking, spim, cyber squating, cyber logging, happy slapping.
Having an updated AUP in place is a solid step toward helping students to know about choices and consequences of their decisions. For instance, in 2008 an ex post facto law on cyber bullying was not timely enough to prosecute Lori Drew, the perpetrator of an online bullying incident that ended with the tragic death of 13 year old Megan Meier.
Lesson 5: Help Student Know the Breadth and Depth of their Rights
To rid your school of the vagaries of free speech, threats and issues, it may be a good idea to help students realize the the length and breath of their rights. Unfortunately, not all what tweens and teens consider free speech is indeed ‘free’ speech.
Furthermore, the relative ease of using social media to share lewd and obscene information is far reaching; and at times repugnant and offensive by social norms. A significant percentage of students do not have a full understanding of the implications of their cyber footprint in areas such as: IMing, blogging, texting, and how some of these new media can amount or incite an immediate breach of peace that has negative consequences on their academic life.