Then the one became two, and the first one said to the second,
“Give me your lunch money…”
Bullying is as old as the world. While our recent technological advances – and opposable thumbs – allow us to connect with great ease and speed over great distances, they also make us easier prey for those who would tease, slander, and harass us.
The problem with cyberbullying for school administrators and teachers is that it most often occurs while students are not at school. As a recent New York Times article by Jan Hoffman details, schools are unsure how much control they can exert over students’ cell phones and computers.
According to Hoffman, out of the 44 states with anti-bullying laws, fewer than half address cyberbullying, and current case law is unclear. A Beverly Hills man sued his school district for suspending his eighth-grade daughter. She’d created and posted aYouTube video of her friends saying terrible things about another girl. The man won the suit because the Federal judge found that the video had not caused the school “substantial” disruption. The court declared, “When a student’s speech interferes substantially with the school’s educational mission, a school can impose discipline.”
In two separate cases in which students libeled their principals online, one court sided with the school and another sided with the students. Both cases have been re-argued in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and are awaiting a decision.
There might be a legal way for schools to discipline students for off-campus violations. Parry Aftab, privacy lawyer and founder of Stop Cyberbullying, suggests schools add to their acceptable use policies a provision “reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on a student or they adversely affect the safety and well-being of a student while in school. This makes it a contractual, not a constitutional, issue.”
We at CHARACTER COUNTS! believe the best defense against bullying is a good offense. You can be proactive in improving the environment of your school and preventing bullying behavior in school and online.
For a schoolwide effort, the first step is to establish a committee to develop and implement the policy. This committee can identify the current state of the school by taking anonymous surveys of students and teachers. These surveys should include questions about how students feel about being at school and how much bullying they witness or experience (both in school and online), as well as questions about what changes they would like to see. How could the climate of the school be improved? What sorts of behaviors do students and teachers want to see more of?
Once the committee has collected and analyzed the data, it should present its findings to the students, staff, and parents. Everyone involved with the school is a stakeholder, so input from students, staff, and parents should be included in the policy-making. Once the committee has identified the most serious problems the school faces, it can develop a plan and timeline for implementation.
What should an anti-bullying program do? Provide professional development to staff on how to deal with bullying effectively and consistently. Have students design posters and banners with anti-bullying messages. Encourage teachers to use CC! lesson plans under the Respect and Caring Pillars. Educate parents about bullying behaviors and conflict resolution. Continue to measure student and faculty opinion with respect to the state of the school. (Is the climate improving?)
To specifically address cyberbullying, teachers can teach and model cyber-empathy. Explain to students that the Golden Rule applies equally online as it does in the world. Tell them not to text angry. Remind them that real people with real feelings are looking at screens invisibly tied to the screens they’re looking at. What seems like a joke to the sender might be taken as a threat or rebuke by the recipient. Before sending a message, students should put themselves in the recipient’s place and ask, “How would I take this message if I got it?” Of course, messages intended as threats or rebukes simply shouldn’t be sent because they violate the Pillars of Respect and Caring. One question students might ask themselves is, “If this person were standing directly in front of me, would I say this?”
In some cases, the answer will still be “Yes,” though the message is clearly bullying. These students need to spend more time with the Six Pillars!
… After extensive character education, the first apologized to the second, admitting that yes, he was lashing out due to his own fears and insecurities, but that he would find other, healthier means of coping, and would she mind terribly accepting his friend request? The second thought about it for a minute, but she accepted, and for the rest of their days they LOL’d, occasionally even ROTFL-ing.