Things To Consider When Creating Your Cyberbullying, Acceptable Use, Cell Phone and Other Digital Device School Policies
Too often school administrators take someone else’s written policy off a shelf, dust it off and change the names to protect the innocent, hoping it will suffice. But rarely does that work. It’s backwards, causing you to adopt choices made by others in dissimilar circumstances.
The process for policy creation has several important steps that have to be taken in that order. A written policy should only be written after the policy itself has been determined. It evidences the final decisions reached about the rules and procedures that apply.
First you need to identify a problem or goal for the policy. Perhaps the state or federal government or department of education are requiring that cell phone or digital device policies be adopted and enforced. The goal is then to design a policy that complies with the law or rule and meets the needs of your school or district. Start by listing the legal requirements and other goals you have already identified. Then do your research. Pull up model agreements and those used by others with similar goals. List the issues covered in those agreements for review by your policy team. Gather a group of stakeholders and review the needs and issues from their perspectives as well. Then write up a list of desired terms. Also list the things others have raised that should be considered and problems identified. These things, combined, comprise your policy “terms sheet.”
Take your terms sheet and share it with counsel (if they haven’t yet been involved in the process), any policy advisors at the district level, state level or federal level at the respective departments of education, risk managers and insurance providers/agencies and, last but not least, the technology and network managers at your school and district levels. Get their thoughts and suggestions. (An email group, wiki or list serv can be effective during this process.)
Then, with your terms sheet in hand and all improvements thereto, look at the model agreements and see how others have articulated the terms sheet issues in their written policy. Feel free to mix and match from various models, as long as the terms are internally consistent. Look for specific language that covers your terms from other kinds of agreements, if you can’t locate a specific digital device agreement provision. Have your legal counsel review it once again.
Run it by your parents and by your students. Make sure they understand it and the goals behind the policy. Listen to their suggestions. Create an explanation for the policy. Why was it prepared? Why do you want both parents and students to sign the policy? What happens if they refuse to sign it or want changes made before they do? Get their buy-in and be available for questions. The more time and effort you devote to getting both parents and students on board the more successful it will be. Consider having students do a video about the issue and the terms of the policy. Have your parent-teacher organization write a letter to other parents about the importance of the policy. Publish it, along with FAQs, on your website, or send an announcement home with the students.
When the policy addresses digital devices or online services, you should start by defining the different kinds of devices and services. Have students and your technology professionals constantly update the list and defined devices both specifically and broadly by type. Use the 3Cs analysis (included in the StopCyberbullying Toolkit) to determine whether a device contains communications, content or commercialization/cost risks. Ask students in elementary school to test the devices and teach parents, their classmates and school administrators about how they work and how they can be abused to cyberbully someone. Tweens in particular are especially helpful with gaming devices and most mobile devices. If the school has a laptop program, make sure that those policies include cyberbullying and harassment, as well as the more basic policies.