When schools try and get involved by disciplining the student for cyberbullying actions that took place off-campus and outside of school hours in the US, they are often sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student's right to free speech. They also often lose.
Schools can be very effective brokers in working with the parents to stop and remedy cyberbullying situations. They can also educate the students on cyberethics and the law. Parents can be educated as well in presentations and with newsletters and handouts.
What schools do best is educate and create awareness. They can bring together all stakeholders and create a community-wide approach to addressing the problem. Students can be involved in helping frame solutions and creating programs and policies.
Schools are often the first to know and to know the most about the student dynamics and what works and what doesn’t. Their early knowledge is important to keep things getting out of control, fast! Anonymous reportlines can be set up to encourage students to report what they see.
If schools are proactive, careful, and creative, they can avoid the claim that their actions exceeded their legal authority for off-campus cyberbullying actions.
We recommend that a provision is added to the school's acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on a student or they adversely affect the safety and well-being of student while in school. This makes it a contractual, not a constitutional, issue.
Work with a team of parents, members of the school community, law enforcement, and students to articulate the policy and determine guidelines for enforcement. The more the policy is a result of this collaborative process, the less likely it will be challenged or that a challenge would be successful.
The cyberbullying programs must be top down (on risk) and bottom up (on measures). All stakeholders must be involved and their expertise and perspectives considered. Even when a program is in place and working, it should always be adaptable, articulated, and communicated to all stakeholder groups.
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