I can certainly understand the frustration of this principal. There's a tendency to want to put a zero-tolerance policy in place in the face of out-of-control cyberbullying. But then, I noticed the "Acceptable Use" policy in the article. This is essentially the "guidelines" of many schools around a student's use of technology at school. However, it is completely inadequate in terms of defining for parents and students EXACTLY what constitutes cyberbullying behaviors.
Example of their "Acceptable Use" policy of prohibited behaviors:
- Use inappropriate language.
- Engage in personal attacks and harrassment of others.
Read: CASD Student Acceptable Use and Social Media Form
The problem is, most schools' Acceptable Use policies are a decade out of touch, entirely too vague and open to interpretation. "Engage in personal attacks?" So, according to this guideline, if a kid calls another kid a "jerk" on his Facebook page, is that the definition of cyberbullying?
No. No. No.
It is an unkind word, but does not fit the true definition of cyberbullying. But, how would administrators know that if they don't actually know what constitutes cyberbullying? It's like relying on non-attorneys to interpret a legal document. If you don't actually know what cyberbullying behaviors are, then you're likely to misinterpret them.
A better policy defines it like this:
Examples of conduct that may constitute cyberbullying include, but are not limited to:
- Posting slurs or rumors or displaying any defamatory, inaccurate, disparaging, violent, abusive, profane, or sexually oriented material about a student on a website or other online application;
- Posting misleading or fake photographs or digital video footage of a student on websites or creating fake websites or social networking profiles in the guise of posing as the target;
- Impersonating or representing another student through use of that other student’s electronic device or account to send e-mail, text messages, instant messages (IM), or phone calls;
- Sending e-mail, text messages, IM, or leaving voice mail messages that are mean or threatening, or so numerous as to bombard the target’s e-mail account, IM account, or cell phone; and
- Using a camera phone or digital video camera to take and/or send embarrassing or “sexting” photographs of other students.
How are students supposed to intrinsically know what not to do if the administration has not provided any specific training around acceptable and unacceptable behaviors? You can't punish students without first defining what specific behaviors lead to specific consequences.
The better approach is to draft a specific cyberbullying policy and then institute compassionate training for both students and teachers. Education is the only way to stop this. All experts repeatedly say this. But a school has to be willing to put in the extra time and effort to invest in social-emotional training.
Maine, our home state, put together a very comprehensive school policy on Internet use and cyberbullying, using parts of our cyberbullying book, Cyberslammed. If you really want to get the cart in front of the horse,
- Update your school policies now. Click to see a good example
- Implement some long-range cyberbullying training for staff and students (not just some fly-by- night assembly that students will forget in six weeks.)
- Use resources like Cyberslammed and other cyberbullying prevention curricula like Common Sense Media to effectively guide the trainings.
If you are a school administrator or teacher and would like to get up to speed very quickly on the most common tactics of cyberbullying, join my FREE lunchtime webinar February 17 at 12 pm (EST). My webinars are purposely small to leave time for personal questions and answers! Register: