Cyberbullying is a devastating and sometimes anonymous attack on an individual through electronic communication. It is a form of harassment that defames or intimidates the victim and can include insults, threats, revealing private information and outright lies. It is intended to harm or humiliate another person in a deliberate, repeated and hostile manner. While it often takes place outside the school environment, the effect cyberbullying can have on a student or staff member and the disruption it may cause in a learning environment has made it an issue districts cannot ignore.
- Address cyberbullying in policy - In 2007, the Oregon Legislature mandated specific reference to cyberbullying in school policy handbooks.
- Expanded definition of cyberbullying - The 2007 laws also expanded the boundaries of what constitutes cyberbullying to include actions which “substantially interfere” with the education of the young person.
- Staff must report and officials must respond any time they are aware of any form of harassment or bullying – including cyberbullying. District officials need to gather information, document details and determine a response based on a child’s age and accepted best-practices.
- Student’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech must be respected - In March 2011, the U.S. Department of Education responded to a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) asking how schools can address online harassment that begins off campus and whether districts can discipline those responsible. The USDOE’s answer makes clear that discipline should not always be the objective because a student’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech must be respected. Schools can counsel both victims and aggressors, have school-wide discussions about appropriate online behavior and teach students about civil rights and tolerance, the response said.
- In 2009, a federal court in California found that a YouTube video peppered with vitriolic insults towards another student did not constitute a true threat or a substantial disruption to schooling and ruled that the school should not have suspended the student who posted the video.
- In 2009, a federal court in Connecticut found that a school did not violate the First Amendment rights of a student when she was barred from running for class office after she posted vulgar messages and urged other students to disrupt school on a blog.
- In 2000, a federal district court in Washington ruled that schools may not punish “off-campus, nonschool-sponsored speech” unless they can substantiate a disruption of educational process.
- Take action when safety is at risk - NSBA’s general counsel, underscores that schools should take action whenever cyberbullying causes safety issues for students or faculty members. There have been news reports of students committing suicide after being the victim of cyber-attacks. Parents, politicians and civic leaders are pressuring school leaders to “do something.”
- Educating staff, students and parents is part of the answer, coupled with a clear and unequivocal response from school administration. An example from Pennsylvania illustrates this point. The administration was alerted to an online poll some students had created to rank the “hottest” girls in school. Comments posted about appearance, gender and sexual orientation were negative and harassing. The school wanted to shut down the site. The technology director determined that some of the comments had been posted from inside the school and blocked access to the site from school grounds. Administrators identified the students who had posted comments and those targeted and immediately contacted those students and their parents. The school’s response sent a strong message that such behavior was not acceptable.
How PACE can help
PACE assists member districts in managing potential lawsuits and provides protection once a claim is brought. Unlike traditional insurance policies, your PACE General Liability Coverage does not exclude coverage for harassment and discrimination or internet-related bullying issues.
SafeSchools® & SafeColleges® offer courses
PACE members can access online courses on Bullying Prevention and a Bullying Primer at no charge.