Cyberbullying Laws vs. the First Amendment: Legal Questions

By Greg Howard – March 25, 2013

Can cyberbullying laws stand up to First Amendment court challenges? Do school leaders have the authority to police off-campus cyberbullying?According to a recent report in the Tampa Bay Times, Florida legislators are seeking to give school leaders the authority to police incidents of cyberbullying that take place off campus. Not everyone is comfortable with the amendments being pushed by legislators, however.

Despite dramatic incidents of cyberbullying that have shocked Floridians in recent months – such as the suicide of a cyberbullied Tampa Bay teenager – some are simply not comfortable with the idea of educators pursuing off-campus abuse.

Some people are questioning the legal authority that school administrators have to punish students for bullying incidents that don’t take place on school property. Others question the legality of off-campus bully policing from the perspective of free speech.

These concerns raise an interesting question. Even if Florida legislators amended state law so educators could punish students for off-campus cyberbullying incidents, would such a law stand up to a First Amendment challenge?

Looking at past legal decisions, the answer to this question is unclear. One critic quoted in the Tampa Bay Times article noted that no Supreme Court decision has expressly given school administrators the authority to go after students for bad behavior off campus.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court has given educators the authority to restrict student speech in certain scenarios. The court’s decision in the 2007 Morse v. Frederick case is an example of this. If educators can restrict student speech at off-campus events, as justices said they could in Morse v. Frederick, could they also pursue students for inappropriate speech in an online forum?

For now, it seems that Floridians can agree on just one thing: something must be done to stop cyberbullying in schools. Unfortunately, it could take years before legislators and the courts have clarified the legal authority of school leaders to police cyberbullying.

While school leaders in Florida and other states wait on these decisions, we urge them to take a look at anonymous bully reporting. Anonymous reporting programs can help troubled students come forward and report bullying and cyberbullying without fear of further abuse from their classmates. Even if educators don’t have the legal authority to punish students for off-campus behavior, they can still address the needs of those being targeted for abuse.

Texting Trends: Students More Likely to Text than Talk

By Paul Langhorst – March 20, 2013

According to data published by Nielsen Mobile in December 2011, the average number of monthly texts for 13-17 year-olds is nearly five times that of voice calls.

Teen Texting Trends

Let’s take a look at why this is happening and examine the implications it has for student reporting of bullying and other issues.

Students Live on Their Mobile Phones

In the old days (5 years ago!), kids lived on PCs, often spending hours at a time instant messaging, chatting with friends (or even strangers) online. Today, the PC has been replaced with smartphones. The latest devices allow students to text, chat, and post 24/7 directly to each other and through many other via social media sites and programs.

These days, teens are so connected to their mobile devices they have become part of their person and personality. Teens, especially girls, personalize their phones with beads, colorful cases, and designs. They often evaluate each other by the type of device they carry: Droid vs. iPhone, smartphone vs. feature phone. Try to take one away and you are in trouble! Case in point: in 2011, a man was shot in the head with a bow and arrow by his 11-year old daughter after he had taken her phone away! Besides that extreme example, serious studies have shown that teens consider technology to be an essential part of their lives. For example, 53 percent of young people surveyed for a 2011 study by globally-known marketing agency McCann Worldgroup said they would rather give up their sense of smell than give up the technology they utilize.

Implications for School Hotlines and Anonymous Reporting

The bottom line is that if your school is going to offer an anonymous reporting solution or school hotline, it had better include the means for students to text in reports. The likelihood of students texting in important reports or tips is far greater than them walking through the front door of the principal’s office to do the same, especially when the report may be very personal or embarrassing. In a perfect world, every report would be made face to face, and we encourage that here at the CyberBully Hotline. However, the reality is that some things are so troubling or personal that fear, shame, or embarrassment will prevent a student from coming forward. In those cases, an anonymous school hotline is the perfect solution.

Of course, students must realize that their school hotline exists before they will take advantage of it. This is where a school’s ongoing promotion effort behind their school hotline pays off. Schools must diligently promote their hotlines, in the halls, online, in class, in assemblies, to parents, on the bus, and anywhere students my congregate. Do so and you will have success with your school hotline.

Learn More about Anonymous Reporting and School Hotlines

If you’re thinking of implementing an anonymous reporting program at your school, let us help you understand the available options. Click here to contact us for more info, or view a free webinar on anonymous reporting here.

School Violence Prevention: Lessons From The Front Lines

By Greg Howard – March 8, 2013

School Violence Prevention

Dr. Scott Poland was the guest speaker for our recent school violence prevention webinar.

Something very important is missing from the current debate over school safety procedures.

Since the Sandy Hook school shooting took place weeks ago, people have been arguing over the validity of various lockdown policies and school emergency response guidelines.  However, there has been little discussion about how to prevent school violence from occurring.

The lack of public discussion on violence prevention is an oversight that needs to be addressed.  That’s why we brought in Dr. Scott Poland, a psychologist with significant school safety credentials, for one of our recent professional development webinars.  A recording of this webinar is now available for viewing; click here to watch it.

In our webinar, Dr. Poland stressed the importance of a balanced approach to school safety.  He supports the use of what he calls “hardware measures” – things such as surveillance cameras, school resource officers, and ID badges – in the fight against safety threats.  But Dr. Poland also believes that attention to student mental health, social relationships, and school culture is essential.

We believe that every school administrator needs to hear Dr. Poland’s ideas on how to prevent school violence.  Dr. Poland’s presentation offers practical advice on topics such as:

• Forming a safety task force
• Enhancing security in school buildings
• Encouraging students to report threats
• Preparing for lockdown events

In addition, Dr. Poland’s presentation goes beyond the usual school safety talk to focus on the psychological side of school safety.  The mental health topics he discusses include:

• Building relationships between students and administrators
• Addressing parental involvement issues
• Identifying students who could pose safety threats

Dr. Poland’s unique presentation is a positive addition to the debate over school safety procedures.  Most discussions on school safety these days seem to center on the most controversial safety procedures, such as realistic lockdown drills and active shooter responses.  We believe that Dr. Poland’s argument in favor of a balanced approach to violence prevention will be valuable to school administrators at all levels.

Please click here to view a recording of the webinar.

Free School Bullying and Violence Prevention Resources

By Greg Howard – March 7, 2013

Free School Bullying and Violence Prevention ResourcesBullying and violence prevention are hot topics among school leaders these days. Thanks to the many inquiries we receive, we know that growing numbers of educational professionals are recognizing these problems and looking for help. That’s why the CyberBully Hotline team, a division of school communications leader SchoolReach, provides a regular series of free webinars and special reports on bully reporting and violence prevention.

The professional development resources we produce address the topics that school leaders are most concerned about – bullying, cyberbullying, violence, self-injury, and so forth. We urge you to take advantage look at these free, robust resources if you haven’t already. These resources are available to all of our website visitors.

Here’s a brief overview of the topics we regularly provide information on:

  • Bullying – School bullying is such a multifaceted topic. It happens in class, on the bus, online and elsewhere. To help administrators confront bullying in their schools, we provide content from school bullying experts on all different types of bullying – cyberbullying, girl bullying, school bus bullying, and more.
  • Youth Issues – Many young people are overwhelmed with the stresses of life and school. Sadly, some turn to cutting and self-injury to deal with pain, some turn to suicide, and still others turn to violence. We work with psychologists and expert counselors to provide timely information on these issues.
  • Anonymous Reporting – There are many ways to approach bully and violence prevention. Anonymous reporting can be used as a primary tool to address these concerns, or it can work in concert with behavioral and character education programs to reduce bullying and school violence. Whatever the method of implementation, our expert-authored webinars and white papers on anonymous reporting provide school leaders with all the information they need on the subject.
  • School Crisis Planning – Even with the best bully prevention programs in place, some students will decide to address their problems with violence. To help school administrators be ready for anything, we regularly work with school safety professionals to provide information on school emergency response planning, active shooter and other lockdown events, and more.

The feedback we get on our professional development resources is overwhelmingly positive. We regularly see near-100% satisfaction scores from surveyed attendees of our webinars, and our white papers and PDF guides have been downloaded by thousands of school leaders. Moreover, since these resources are free, you have nothing to lose by giving them a try. If you haven’t viewed our professional development content lately, we invite you to take a look at it right now.

Our Resource Center is packed with valuable video resources, links to upcoming webinars, case studies and white papers, and more. Our social media profiles also feature valuable content. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for interesting infographics and links to newly-available professional development resources.