I’ve been studying Freedom of Speech and Social Media from an school administrator’s point of view. Cybertraps for Educators by Fredrick Lane is one of my main sources of information and if you’re in education, you should read it. I’m going to share bits of what I’ve learned over the next few weeks.
Super interesting is that at this point, student speech is far more protected than teacher speech. If cyberbullying occurs off campus, for the most part it has been considered protected by the First Amendment. (Well, to clarify, it’s not NOT protected…the key is if it causes a substantial disruption to the school.) So even if there’s no legal or disciplinary recourse for administrators, a reasonable person should do something about it.
Even with the precedence that off-campus speech is generally protected by the First Amendment, administrators must not ignore known cases of cyberbullying of both students and teachers. Students may not be able to receive corrective action at the school but other ways exist to combat such events.
First and foremost, the administrator should make sure that the student’s parents are notified if not fully brought alongside to curb the cyberbullying. Access to technology presents new challenges for parents of the 95% of high school students who own some sort of personal device (Lane, 2015). Allowing their children to use the phone or iPad without supervision put parents in a precarious situation with the legal system should cyberbullying occur. Courts have ruled that parents may be liable for emotional suffering caused by their children in cyberbullying situations if they do not take due action to correct the situation (Bloomberg BNA, 2014). While school may not be an active party, private citizens may sue each other over these cases.
Additionally, administrators should look for spillover to the school setting, even if it is not considered substantially disruptive. Character-building programs, classroom social interventions, and further targeted behavioral interventions can be used with effect. Additionally, to address the occurrence before it happens is another approach; bullying is less likely to occur in a school with a positive climate (Wang, 2013). Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs demonstrate success in improving school climate, including the relationships between students and teachers (Wang, 2013).
Is there more that can be done? Of course. But certainly parents and PBIS are a good start.
Bloomberg BNA. (2014, October 22). Georgia court rules parents may be liable for child’s fake Facebook account. Retrieved from http://www.bna.com/georgia-court-rules-n17179906173/
Lane, F. (2015). Cybertraps for educators [Kinde 6]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Cybertraps-Educators-Frederick-Lane-ebook/dp/B00RSNBZJW
Wang, C. M. (2013). The critical role of school climate in effective bullying prevention. Theory into Practice, 52(4), 296-302