As administrators, we realize that we are responsible for what happens within our school. However, in our modern world, sometimes the school domain extends beyond the four walls, and into the cyber realm. Along with other forms of bullying, cyberbullying is becoming an issue that cannot be ignored.
What is Cyberbullying?
According to the Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center (which actively leads social change to prevent childhood bullying, so that all youth are safe and supported in their schools, communities and online), cyberbullying is bullying through electronic means. It includes the sending, posting, or sharing of harmful, false, or malicious content about another person. It can be a permanent and persistent, and is a public display that is hard for the victim to escape.
When is the School Responsible?
While we cannot monitor everything students do outside of school, on their own devices, the administrator becomes responsible once the bullying occurs on school property. Students who have access to phones and internet services can often find ways to connect to sites where cyberbullying may occur. In these incidences, the administrator and school district have the responsibility of setting perimeters and blocking sites so students cannot gain access. If an issue arises, the administrator needs to act quickly to investigate and respond responsibly.
In addition to at-school instances, administrators may need to become involved if the cyberbullying is occurring outside of school and threatens the school itself. If someone posts an intent to harm a student at school, then the administrator must act quickly and with support from law enforcement if necessary.
How to Monitor Cyberbullying
While it may seem irrational to ask a school to monitor student social media sites, there is technology available that will allow schools and districts to monitor student internet activity while at school. Schools should not take any incidents lightly.
Appropriate Discipline for Cyberbullying
It is important that schools and districts begin to address cyberbullying in their policies. All states have laws requiring that schools respond to instances of bullying, but many states do not specify the role schools should play in responding to cyberbullying. They should determine what should happen if students are caught in the act of cyberbullying on a school account or computer device. It may mean the loss of the use of such a device, or it could be as serious as a suspension or alternative placement. There should be consideration for the child’s age and severity of the act, but can we as administrators really know how severely any act will affect the victim?
Establishing Rules and Expectations
The key is to educate, even young students, as to what cyberbullying looks like, and when to report such instances to their parents. Administrators should encourage students to immediately share incidents where they are being are being cyberbullied. The administrator has the responsibility to investigate and deal with such issues. It is also important that students learn anti-bullying techniques for working online.
It is time that schools and districts begin to address the issue, as it is not something that appears to be going away. By establishing clear rules, communicating expectations, and developing written consequences, schools will be able to work toward protecting the students that depend on them.