“Schools that fail to take action to curb cyberbullying among students may find themselves defending their actions (or lack of action) in court, worse still, dealing with the tragedy of a student suicide.”One can argue whether schools are responsible or not, but the societal expectations are simple: if school administrators know it’s happening, then they had better do something about it." The legal system generally evaluates a school’s right to intervene in off-campus cyberbullying by determining if the victim’s educational experience has been harmed by the actions or the perpetrator. What is a school administrator to do?
Perhaps as Bissonette suggests, the best way to deal with cyberbullying is to proactively develop effective policy that defines specifically what is considered cyberbullying and the range of actions the school or district should take to address the problems when they happen.
What are the must-have elements in any school or district’s cyberbullying policy? Here’s some suggestions I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing from Bissonette's book, Cyber Law: Maximizing Safety and Minimizing Risk in Classrooms.
- Avoid zero-tolerance and highly punitive policies. According to Bissonnette, if policies are too punitive they actually might discourage individuals from reporting instances of cyberbullying.
- Develop policies that “allow a range of sanctions from verbal warnings, to detention, to suspension or expulsion.” This flexibility allows administrators to provide the appropriate level of consequences for the offense. Not all cyberbullying rises to the same level of severity.
- Make sure your cyberbullying polices contain good definitions. Define cyberbullying in such a way that all students, parents and staff understand what it is.
- Cyberbullying policies should make it clear that they “apply to all instances of cyberbullying.” The policy needs to make it clear that whether it happens on campus or off it is covered. Also, it should make it clear that it applies to the use of school computers and networks too.
- The policies should also describe procedures for reporting instances of cyberbullying. Included in that description are what victims, witnesses and staff do to report instances of cyberbullying. It is also important to describe the steps the school or district will take in investigating a report of cyberbullying.
- Cyberbullying policies should also describe parent notification procedures. When and how parents will be notified should be detailed.
- Finally, according to Bissonette, policy should describe all the devices that might be used in cyberbullying. It should clearly state, for example, that cell phones, cameras, and other electronic communication devices could be used in cyberbullying.