Wednesday, February 05, 2014

From the StopCyberbullying Toolkit - Harassment of Teachers by Students

When Students Harass Teachers, Administrators and Other Adults

So far, this guide has been about students as targets and victims. But all of us understand that not all students are innocent creatures tormented without provocation. Many see the technology as a useful and very effective weapon against those within the school system who have provoked them, bored them, or have been in the wrong place at the wrong cybertime.

Opened stale cans of tuna hidden in a drawer, thumbtacks on the chair, or syrup of ipecac mixed in with a teacher’s morning coffee were the weapons of choice in Parry’s day. Now, students have been empowered by YouTube channels of substitute teachers’ humiliations on video, and multimedia skills that permit them to post an unpopular teacher’s or the principal’s head on someone else’s sexually explicit body image. Photoshopping (manipulating photos for the purposes of harassing someone) meets boredom and creativity these days.

For the math teachers out there, Parry has one more formula. The likelihood of a teacher or school administrator being harassed by students in cyberspace is a product of the unpopularity of the teacher or school administrator or emotional incident involving a student times the boredom, creativity, and connectivity of the students.

Likelihood of harassment = unpopularity or emotional incident X student boredom X student creativity X connectivity (handhelds, in particular)

Students have grabbed a teacher's unattended phone, substituted their number for the teacher’s fiancĂ©’s number, and sent a text message (that appeared as her fiancĂ©’s) ending the engagement. 

They regularly harass a substitute teacher in the classroom until the teacher explodes in frustration, which is then captured by their video cellphones for all viewers on YouTube.
Thousands of campaigns were launched by students against teachers, adults they don’t like, or school administrators, alleging sexual deviance or criminal behavior.

School administrators often react, attempting to discipline the student. They have withheld college recommendations. They have suspended and expelled students. They have removed them from positions in student government, on school newspapers, and in school plays. They have removed them from school sports teams and terminated their school club activities. They have filed criminal charges against them. And, in most cases, they are sued and lose for exceeding their authority. The average recovery in a lawsuit is about $60,000. When coupled with the cost of defending the lawsuit, this can reach six figures easily. That’s two or more teachers. It’s an art program. It’s a refurbished gym. It’s a technology lab. And it should never be turned over, when alternatives of planning, getting parents on board, getting students to assist in creating meaningful policies, are so easily available.

Parry Aftab has written extensively about this issue. (Her guide for schools will be published shortly and available without charge at Courts tend to be more tolerant of disciplinary actions when teachers are unable to teach (and have to take a medical leave) or are able to demonstrate a physical/emotional reaction that affects their health. But courts and the law move more slowly than our students. So, the time to think about this is BEFORE students act out, not as a knee-jerk response.

Note that many social networks and virtual worlds/game networks have a school take-down policy. If they work with Parry Aftab or her consulting firm, WiredTrust, they have to articulate that policy and make it available to schools upon request. Those policies often give schools the ability to reach out directly to the network and have an offensive profile or page removed. Googling all teachers and school administrators and setting a Google Alert to inform you of any new posts is an early warning system. The faster you can learn of a student-adult attack the faster you can disable it and prevent its spread.

Students rarely understand how significant these hateful messages and posts can be. They often qualify as defamation per se which means that the claims are so heinous that their being made is in itself enough to avoid the claimant from having to prove actual damages. That means, if a teacher is the target of a hate campaign alleging sexual conduct with a student (which is untrue), the teacher is entitled to statutory damages and doesn’t have to prove loss of reputation, job, etc. It makes the suit easier and far more expensive to the defendant (in this case the student(s)).