Cyberbullying: Are schools supposed to now police the behavior of students in virtual playgrounds?

This is a riveting New York Times piece on the challenges to schools from cyberbullying. I am torn as to what the schools’ rightful role ought to be in policing the nasty adolescent exchanges that are becoming far too common on the Internet.

Read the lengthy Times piece when you have time. It is disturbing, especially since my twins start middle school in August. (My oldest daughter had a very rough first year in middle school. My older son had very little drama in middle school, but sidestepped a lot of the social tussling. And he had neither a phone nor a personal computer until high school.)

I still think one answer to cyberbullying is keeping middle schoolers off Facebook and other social networking sites. I am also not a fan of giving middle school students cell phones, as my 11-year-old daughter is quick to complain. Her older sister used to ask me to please dip into her college fund to get cable TV. Now, we have cable, but the 11-year-old asks me now instead to tap into her college fund to pay for a cell phone.

According to the Times piece:

Schools these days are confronted with complex questions on whether and how to deal with cyberbullying, an imprecise label for online activities ranging from barrages of teasing texts to sexually harassing group sites. The extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected.

Affronted by cyberspace’s escalation of adolescent viciousness, many parents are looking to schools for justice, protection, even revenge. But many educators feel unprepared or unwilling to be prosecutors and judges.

Often, school district discipline codes say little about educators’ authority over student cellphones, home computers and off-campus speech. Reluctant to assert an authority they are not sure they have, educators can appear indifferent to parents frantic with worry, alarmed by recent adolescent suicides linked to bullying.

Whether resolving such conflicts should be the responsibility of the family, the police or the schools remains an open question, evolving along with definitions of cyberbullying itself.

Nonetheless, administrators who decide they should help their cornered students often face daunting pragmatic and legal constraints.

“I have parents who thank me for getting involved,” said Mike Rafferty, the middle school principal in Old Saybrook, Conn., “and parents who say, ‘It didn’t happen on school property, stay out of my life.’ ”

26 comments Add your comment

Same problem, different symptom

June 28th, 2010
6:39 pm

“Reluctant to assert an authority they are not sure they have, educators can appear indifferent to parents frantic with worry, alarmed by recent adolescent suicides linked to bullying.”

There’s an understatement, considering how many times educators don’t even assert the authority they do have. They have, for example, the authority to remove a student from a school after three incidents of bullying, but how many cases can you point to where that has been enforced?

Same problem, different symptom.

Free Market Educator

June 28th, 2010
8:00 pm

The BP fiddles while the Gulf burns. Where/how does North Georgia plan to educate the coming flood of refugees? Nothing like a catastrophe to eradicate the problem of cyber-bullies.


June 28th, 2010
8:52 pm

Parents want Milford Elementary School closed! Where do they want the school to be? The parents don’t work or pay property taxes to pay for the schools; the parents are responsible for their children and should be able to safely cross roads and get their children to school for a free education.

I saw it

June 28th, 2010
8:58 pm

Have you seen it? It’s not a “road”, it’s an expressway in the front door of the school.


June 28th, 2010
9:27 pm

Ridiculous. Once again, if ALL parents (not just some) would step up to the plate and BE parents INSTEAD OF buddies, this would be a non-issue. There is absolutely no reason in the world for kids to have this technology, and certainly not to have in UNMONITORED.


June 28th, 2010
10:22 pm

People wake up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Start parenting and be-friending your child!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11


June 28th, 2010
10:33 pm

My daughter was cyber-threatened. The school was on top of it before I knew anything about it. The boy was taken to tribunal, expelled, and I think went to juvenile court as well. It was certainly decisive action!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]


June 29th, 2010
12:47 am

There is one upside to bullies using texting and Facebook. The victim’s parents can show the actual words used to the bully’s parents ( and police, if necessary). No more “that’s not what she said.” as a defense. Yes, I did read far enough to get that the first anecdote’s accused perp was not the real perp. Rarely that will happen; but consider how hard it is for even the most ridiculous parent to have to say “some person my son has never seen before sent all 37 of those threatening messages over a 4 day period, interspersed with messages my son did send.”

That a parent would not even talk to the apparent bully’s father, whom he knew pretty well, because it would be awkward, is disgusting. That he wanted the school to do it for him is outrageous. His poor daughter, with a father who will not protect her and who is teaching her not to defend herself.

The dad who is keeping the nasty youtube video his bully daughter put up should be ostracized by his community. He was right to fight his daughter’s suspension and he was wrong to merely “chastise” her and he is malicious to keep the video up.


June 29th, 2010
2:10 am

@ catlady glad to hear it was taken care of, but did anything of consequence happen to the parents of the child?

Sidenote-We already provide free food, free transportation, free clothing. Why not also provide them with free monitoring of what students when they are on the internet. The school system have already crossed the line with what schools provide and what parents provide why stop now? Why not just completely remove the child from the person who gave birth to them and place the child in a 24/7 school. Sadly that’s the only chance some children have, to get parenting from someone else besides their actual parent. To bad that there’s not unlimited funds to do this, oh wait there is money, it’s called prison. But that’s only if they do something really bad. Why provide a positive service? Bars are less expensive then books? Not based on the numbers I’ve seen.

On topic-If its outside the school it should be a police harrassment issue. Different government agency to help “raise” some children as to what is acceptable in a civil society.

drew (former teacher)

June 29th, 2010
6:27 am

Yeah, schools don’t have enough on their plate, so let’s throw some law enforcement responsibilities on them. And how do you determine when the “bullying” line has been crossed? When little Johnny gets his feelings hurt? When someone cries?

Guess what…”bullying” has been around a long, long time, and it’s not going anywhere. The only difference is kids now have multiple ways to inflict their adolescent damage. Unless the alleged “bullying” takes place at school, the school has absolutely NO responsibility getting involved. One of the reasons schools are “broke” is that all these responsibilities that used to belong to parents (or law enforcement) have been pushed on the schools. So now schools spend more time and money transporting, feeding, counseling and basically “parenting” kids than they do educating them.

Teaching in FL is worse

June 29th, 2010
7:29 am

Once again, our reach exceeds our grasp. As painful as bullying is, things that happen outside of school are beyond our control. If it happens IN school-different story. Unfortunately, even things that happen outside of school has a lasting effect on our students when they do come.

It will take some intervention from the internet providers and the courts to get some control over the issue. (Oh, almost forgot——–parents, too!)


June 29th, 2010
7:50 am

Not about schools per se, but worth thinking about….

While bullying has been around forever, before cyberbullying it was much more difficult to do without an adult (who in theory would step in) witnessing it. Even if a child was bullied during the day at school (less common in the past because faculty and staff used to be more of a deterrent), at least home was a safe refuge. The only way a bully could get to a child in the home used to be to call on the house line or to physically go to the house. Either way, a parent could intervene by answering the phone or the door, preventing the bullying. Now, there is 24×7 access to the victim without an adult being aware of what’s going on because of the silent (to the adult) and anonymous (again to the adult) access, so there’s no relief to the bullying. It’s much easier to handle adversity if you get a break from it, versus being assaulting constantly without relief.

Just Saying...

June 29th, 2010
8:55 am

Schools should not be responsible for student behavior online beyond school hours. If students are at school and have time to cyber-bully other students than someone is not doing their job. However to help with the cyber-bullying situation, schools should block all social networks on campus computers to avoid the use of the networks by anyone during school hours (students, teachers, faculty and administration).

When I was in high school there was a policy in place for conflicts outside of school hours. If a conflict occurred in a neighborhood and stayed within the neighborhood, then it was a problem of the neighborhood. However, once the conflict was brought within the doors of the school, it became a school problem and can be punishable by school authorities. This should be the same with cyber-bullying. If comments are made online at home or other locations outside of school, then it is the problem of the students and parents involved. However, if comments are made during school time and/or on school property then it is a matter for school authorities to handle.


June 29th, 2010
9:12 am

Well, of course schools should be responsible! We’re supposed to get them to and from school, provide before-care and after-care, feed them breakfast and lunch, ensure that they aren’t obese, give them moral education, give them sex education, and pretty much everything else except put them to bed and get them up in the morning…

Why not?

mountain mom

June 29th, 2010
9:15 am

The social network sites are blocked on the school computers and school networks, but the students use their phones with internet access to post on facebook during the day at school (yes, the phones they are not supposed to have at school….).


June 29th, 2010
9:16 am

If the bullying is occuring or continuing during school hours; yes, it is the schools responsibility. The issue with cyberbullying is that it doesn’t stop outside of the school building or inside. A lot of things that are initiated inside of the school building, end up being resolved outside (on the school bus and neighborhood streets).

The least the school can do is notify the parents of the students involved and/or police department.

Susan – it doesn’t matter if they are not paying property taxes directly, because they are definitely paying indirectly (rent) and other taxes. And yes, the school has become a danger zone and shutting it down should be considered. Furthermore, they have two options (1.) build a new school in a safer location or (2.) redistribute the kids to schools within the area.


June 29th, 2010
9:19 am

…and by the way, our school district blocks social networking and instant messaging sites, but the students are more computer savvy than the tech people, and know how to evade the “net nanny” software.

Cell phones are also forbidden at school, but they have them anyway — and frequently parents want them to.


June 29th, 2010
9:49 am

Dewey, the parents were out of lot of money, of course, for their attorney and counseling for the boy, I think. I don’t know what other penalties they had, if any.

Is it that the schools have “taken on” these responsibilities, or have they been shoved in the schools’ faces? I think the latter. When you have kids coming to school without eating, who are crying for food by 9 am, someone has to step up to the plate. Now, the schools are a dumping ground (not said in a negative way) for federally paid commodities, etc–big business!

I would like to see the schools go back to–gasp–planning, executing, and evaluating instruction for willing students. Cut out the rest–the nursing, the social work, the transportation, the resource officers, and on and on. The rest goes to the parent, to get the child fed, to school, disciplined, and motivated to learn.

ScienceTeacher671: you have been privy on this blog to the number of parents swearing (by God) that is their right (by God) for their child to have their cellphone (by God) out any time they want to (by God) so the parent can get in touch with them at any time (by God)! To which I say: Just keep them home if you need to be able to speak to them at any time.

Perhaps, like parking permits, students should have to earn the ability to carry a cell phone at school, like by grades, staying out of trouble, extracurriculars, etc.

Political Spectator...

June 29th, 2010
10:18 am

This is an impossible rule to enforce. After the most recent publicizing of the student’s suicide, citizens demanded that something happen and legislators answered with an unenforceable knee jerk solution. It is ridiculous to think that administrators should discipline students for something that happen at home. Should the school discipline students if they are drinking in their parents’ basement? Should the school prepare to suspend students that joy ride in the parents’ car without a license? What about the 9 year old that sneaks a cigarette from his mother’s purse? What about that 14 year old girl that is having consensual sex with her 17 year old boyfriend? Should the school step in and discipline all involved?

Talk to an administrator or school counselor about the current bullying law. More times than not, students that are accused of bullying also claim to be a victims of bullying. When you have both children claiming to be victims, what do you do?

Joy In Teaching

June 29th, 2010
10:27 am

It seems to me that if public schools are expected to raise them, feed them, teach them the differences between right and wrong, and police them, should schools get the tax write off instead of their parents?

Things are too upside down for words.

Sidney C

June 29th, 2010
11:37 am

I want to give you a story.

A teacher, well respected, well decorated, test scores, student achievement etc…

Both him and his family were bullied by a sick former student who spread all sorts of false rumors and tried to trick the teacher’s children into “friending” her on on-line social networks. Calls to the house, etc.

When the largest school system in georgia failed to assist this teacher, he walked away for the private sector because there were no assurances that the teacher and the family were the priority over this sick former student.

Now i ask you. What type of school system does not support its teachers?


Political Spectator...

June 29th, 2010
12:06 pm

@Sidney C: As sad as that story is, it makes my point. This issue is too complex for just the school system to address. Even if the school system suspended the “sick former student”, or place the student in alternative school, it would not have stopped the student from “befriending” the teacher’s children.

The teacher should have called on law enforcement. It seems to me that stalking occured (a criminal offense). It also seemed that harassment on several fronts occured.

Cobb Special Ed teacher

June 29th, 2010
1:03 pm

Parents need to parent and teachers need to teach. Unfortunately I spend as much time parenting as I do teaching. It’s sad when students arrive in upper elementary grades and don’t know to chew with their mouths closed or know how to address an adult. Of course parents want the school system to deal with cyber bullies, “parents” are too busy socializing and taking “me” time to spend time with their children. The priorities of this nation have shifted, and not for the good of families/children.


June 29th, 2010
4:31 pm

catlady, I’ve also had the parents who didn’t think the child ought to be punished for texting during class, because “I texted him/her and s/he was answering me!” as well as the parents who were at school to pick up the confiscated cell phone before I could even get it to the office.

And I agree – if you require 24/7 contact with your kids, homeschool! Don’t let them out of your sight!

New Blood Needed

July 1st, 2010
3:16 pm