When Cyberbullying Spills into Schools

Bullying and its consequences is not a new topic of discussion in the school climate discussion. A very recent Ohio high school tragedy is alleged to have been the result of bullying. On February 23, Education Week offered an on-demand Webinar entitled “When Cyberbullying Spills into School,” which aimed to address when schools should intervene in cyberbullying. The Webinar featured Nancy Willard, Executive Director for the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, and Barbara-Jane Paris, a principal at Canyon Vista Middle (Austin, TX) and legislative liaison for Bullypolice.org, who addressed issues such as the legality of school action against cyberbullying and creating a school culture to prevent bullying.

There are many causes behind cyberbullying, including a previously-initiated conflict that may be continued via cyberspace, or bullying that is used for retaliation. Schools’ roles in addressing cyberbullying are uncertain because it may occur outside of the school environment, yet its impact can be felt within the classroom. There are few clear-cut guidelines available for administrators, who often struggle to develop policies to deal with such behavior. Willard suggested that schools make sure that, if they have the legal authority to respond to cyberbullying, they do so and do so effectively. She also argued for peer-based intervention and prevention systems, as many incidents go unreported to adults within the building. This may have to do with the typical outcome of reporting; Willard noted that of the 42% of incidents that do get reported, only 34% of the situations result in improved outcomes.

Additionally, the Webinar stressed that school staff can become involved in an off-campus incident when they believe it has, or could, cause a substantial disruption in school, or may encroach on students’ rights. Simply punishing the offender is not enough to resolve incidences of cyberbullying. Giving the victim a chance to make their pain clear to the student who bullied them and holding the offender accountable is key to resolving the issue. Intervening when appropriate can lead to students’ continued success in the classroom, specifically when the resolution results in a behavioral change and is not just made to “prove a point.”

For more information and resources to respond to cyberbulling, visit Willard’s Web site at http://Embracingdigitalyouth.org or Paris’ Web site at www.bullypolice.org.  A recording of the Webinar is available here.  

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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