I attended a meeting this morning hosted by the Ad Council, attempting to create a coalition of the cybersafety experts and groups. While there, we had several discussions about the authority of a school (a public school) to discipline a student for off-premises actions that might have an impact on the school environment.
This is particularly important when dealing with cyberbullying. Most cyberbullying is launched from the home or recreational environment, from computers, handheld devices and cell phones owned and controlled by the student or their family. While the student and their friends may intent that the cyberbullying attacks have an effect on the victim during school hours, the activity in question is conducted after hours, off school premises.
I explain this problem to parents when I speak this way: if two students came ot a party at my house on a Sunday with their families, and got into a fist-fight there, could the school discipline them on Monday morning for that fist-fight? Of course not.
Yet, if this same fight occurred during school hours, or at a basketball game sponsored by the school, or at a school trip, no one would think twice about that students being disciplined for this action.
So, where does the school's authority start and stop?
Where should it?
I am an advocate and believer in free speech values But I also protect children. I have seen six deaths attributed to cyberbullying attacks and campaigns over the last several years. On April 1st a young girl committed suicide after her best firend had killed herself over cyberbullying attacks months before. Cyverbullying has taken it's first "besgt friend" victim.
The best place, IMHO, to handle cyberbullying is in school. School's have extensive experience dealing with fights among students and bulklying in general. They understand the technologies involved and how they are used and abused. They are in a particularly good place to ensure the safety and well-being of their students while on premises, and cyberbullying bleeds through to real life in many ways.
Advance knowledge f cyberbullying attacks and campaigns can help prevent further violence, as well.
Schools can compel parents to attend a conference to discuss the problems and help students work though the emotional pain of being cyberbullied.
But, if a school is willing to take this on, and is sued for their actions that were designed to protect the learning environment, their students' well-being and that of their administration and teaching staff, and keeping their students safe, what school would take this on?
This decision, while not being as far-reaching as it could have been, went further than I expected it to go.
I will be counseling schools to take a stronger stand in keeping their students safe from bullies and hateful actions of their students.
Someone has to do this. Schools are the ones best armed for this fight.
And, if they need help and guidance, we'll give it to them...
My 2 cents.