I have a question for you, but first here’s what it’s about: A recent group cyberbullying incident involving two high schools in Palo Alto, Calif., has “sparked intense discussion” among parents, school administrators and general community members “about the proper role of the school district” when cyberbullying involves students but doesn’t happen on school grounds,” Palo Alto Online reports. School officials called the parents of students known to be involved and took no disciplinary action. Each incident is unique, but digital pile-ons are not unusual, in fact a very similar group cyberbullying story in Oregon arrived in my in-box just a few days ago. In both incidents, an “I Hate____” group in Facebook had been established by the bullies, but that development is often not the beginning of an altercation, and it definitely wasn’t in the Oregon case. So even the lack of users’ anonymity in Facebook couldn’t expose every student involved and doesn’t get to the bottom of what happened. In the Oregon case (it’s hard to tell from the Palo Alto story), even the target of the hate group apparently wasn’t completely the innocent victim. It’s important to note, though, that in both cases, Facebook deleted the groups upon notification. This isn’t the solution (it doesn’t end arguments), but it’s an important part of the resolution process.
My question is, what do you think school officials should’ve done? In California, a new law gives schools authority to suspend or expel students for cyberbullying, but as I read through these cases – saw their complexities and how hard it is for schools to know exactly how the argument started, who started it, how many students are involved, whether the victim was the original instigator, or even whether it was staged for the instigators’ instant fame online – I think suspension is like a blunt-instrument approach that of course punishes some involved but discourages students from reporting such cases in the future and doesn’t resolve what the argument was about. The schools were right to call parents. But tell me if you agree that the schools could also turn incidents like this into “teachable moments” in the form of school assemblies about all possible implications of taking fights public online. In such assemblies or in digital citizenship instruction, schools might teach students the three basic types of leadership behavior described by Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use: “speaking out against the harm, reporting the harm to an adult who is in a position to intervene, and helping the targeted student.” Would appreciate your thoughts – via comments here or in our forum at ConnectSafely.org. Feel free, too, to email them to me via anne(at)netfamilynews.org.