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Jan Borelli

That was extremely well written and so thought provoking.... and kind of scarey, too.

Scott McLeod

Kevin, great post! The challenge is Step 1. What does it mean for a school to "handle" instances of cyberbullying? To most school officials, it means formal school discipline (e.g., suspension, expulsion, other punishment). Much to administrators' dismay, however, courts have looked askance at schools overreaching into students' private lives and free speech rights. All but one of the decided court cases on student-to-student or student-to-employee cyberharassment has gone against the school district that tried to punish the offending student. In addition to the decided cases, we have multiple instances where the case never made it to court but the student received a large settlement from the district. So... I think there is a place for schools to contact parents and to notify victims about their private lawsuit rights, but unless school officials can prove a 'material and substantial disruption' to the school environment, administrators are going to lose in court (and have already been losing repeatedly, despite some fairly egregious conduct by students that administrators have tried to argue was materially and substantially disruptive).

The podcast of my TIES presentation on cyberbullying is available here (if anyone's interested):


The podcast includes detailed descriptions of the cases to date. Also, the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Morse v. Frederick may shed some additional light on schools' ability to regulate students' off-campus speech:


Peter Rock

"Many school districts are now blocking access to social networking sites in an attempt to curtail cyberbullying."

i.e. Throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The constructive school response to cyberbullying is communication. If a student wishes to threaten another student, I don't see how blocking access to certain sites on campus is going to deter that. If I want to pick on A and you block site X, I'll use Y. And if you block Y, I'll use Z. And if you block the Internet as a whole, I'll write an anonymous note and stick it where X will find it.

The best approach is for teachers to discuss this issue with students. It really is that simple. You create emotional safety through love, understanding, and communication - not enforcement of guilty-until-proven-innocent Internet-usage policies.

Cyberbullying through social networking sites should be seen as an opportunity to teach. Do those who call for the banning of such sites (and yes, this includes YouTube-like sites) really believe they are protecting students?

If so, please explain your reasoning.

Jan Borelli

Thanks, Scott for providing the research and current law/practice. I am beginning to consider this blog to be one of the most important parts of my daily professional development.


Thanks for a good post that raises the issue and suggests some directions.

Coming from the private sector allows us some leeway in dealing with cyberbullying but fundamentally I have to agree that first and foremost it is our responsibility to educate the students about responsible and ethical use of technology. As Peter said blocking a site does not prevent bullying. Bullying has and always will be a childhood issue that educators must confront.

I like the steps listed they are proactive. We have already revised are AUP and we have also empowered the parents by providing them with specific directions on dealing with their own children's MySpace accounts if they contain false or offensive materials.

One factor that is only alluded to here is the need for all of us (administrators) to be up to speed on technology. Our students know I am "techie" and they know I visit MySpace. An ounce of prevention.... I am still amazed how many people- ( from grade schoolers to 20 somethings) still think their writing a "private" journal. I think digital literacy is key to this issue.

Jane Perzyk

Our students may think they are "whizzes" at technology, but in my experience, they are limited in their understanding of search skills, ability to evaluate the credibility of websites, and in addition, prefer the copy/paste method of gathering and reporting information rather than collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing content found through web searches. Also included in this list of shortcomings, as Barb alluded to, is the cavalier way in which many denizens of MySpace and other social networking sites publish pictures and personal information which could be damaging in the future. Steve Dembo, in his presentation, "The New Permanent Record," at the Connecting and Collaborating Conference in Holland, MI, last May, warned that college admissions representatives and corporate recruiters look at these sites and in some cases have rejected applicants because of objectionable content. (See http://www.teach42.com/2006/05/12/audio-from-the-new-permanent-record/). It's kind of like that spur of the moment tattoo that seemed like such a good idea at the time!

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