Monday, February 17, 2014

Defining the Bullying and Cyberbullying Problem for Your School Policy

Things to Think About When Structuring Your Definitions and Scope. 

Note that in defining “bullying” the model policy from the Florida Department of Education requires:

  1. ·         Systematic and chronic conduct
  2. ·         Unwanted and repeated
  3. ·         Severe and pervasive

The problem with requiring chronic, repeated and pervasive conduct before the policy kicks in is that it ignores the two different ways conduct arises to harassment. 

A one time threat is sufficient to constitute harassment, especially if it is a threat of bodily harm or property damage. Lesser attacks may have to be repeated to constitute harassment, especially if they fall into the “you are fat, disgusting and stupid” categories. 

One time threat of bodily harm or harm to property and repeated insults, provocative statements, etc. should be the threshold. 

In addition, certain other one-time actions should constitute cyberbullying for the purposes of school policies, such as forwarding someone else’s naked image to destroy their reputation and posting true facts designed to hurt a student or subject them to ridicule and possible hate attacks (such as their health private information, STDs, sexual preferences or activities).

The “chronic and repeated “requirements before a policy kicks in are replicated around the US, but do a disservice to the problem. They are used to avoid First Amendment and similar state constitutional conflicts, but are not necessary if the policy is well-constructed to avoid constitutional restrictions. 

Parry Aftab has worked with leading constitutional scholars and lawyers on model language that can be adopted to address the realities of cyberbullying conduct and respect constitutional rights at the same time. 

Keep an eye on or updates to this StopCyberbullying Toolkit to watch their progress.