Educators Legal Liability: Intervening in Cyberbullying Cases

Educators Legal Liability: Intervening in Cyberbullying Cases

Cyberbullying is considered to be worse than just being bullied in person. While being bullied in person is emotionally and sometimes physically damaging to a child, kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior, since it involves using any electronic devices and technology medium available. This can include social media sites, text messages, chat rooms, and websites.

There is little that can be done by the child themselves to delete hateful messages and not let it get to them. Cyberbullying’s damaging effects on a child could cause them to:

  • Skip school
  • Experience in-person bullying
  • Be unwilling to attend school
  • Receive poor grades
  • Have lower self-esteem
  • Have more health problems

This raises the question “what can be done?” Many adults have chimed in over the years in various cyberbullying cases about who is to blame. Some say it’s just the bully, some say it’s the parents, and others say that the problem lies with educators not stepping in when they are made aware of the incidents. But, should educators be intervening in cyberbullying cases?

A few years ago, a girl attending Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, NJ was sent sexually explicit threats in the form of text messages from a male classmate. The parents of the girl insisted that the principal punish the young man. However, the principal said he could not discipline him because the incident occurred out of school, on a weekend. Many educators share his sentiment, saying that they are unprepared or unwilling to act as prosecutors or judges.

Educators and administrators who do intervene in cyberbullying cases are often faced with daunting pragmatic and legal constraints. According to the Anti-Defamation League, although 44 states have bullying statutes, fewer than half of them offer guidance about whether schools may intervene in bullying that involves “electronic communication”.

Though resolving cyberbullying conflicts can be slippery and time-consuming, many schools ask that students report them when they start, before then intensify. However, some students think they can handle the ridicule themselves, or they are just too embarrassed to speak up. Others fear that their parents will overreact.

No matter how or if you are able to intervene as an educator in cyberbullying cases, how to prevent and resolve these issues is a conversation that students should be having with their teachers and their peers. Many experts say that it’s a good idea to have a general assembly addressing the responsibilities of online and digital communication and if possible, letting the victims of cyberbullying know that they can come to a teacher or guidance counselor.

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