Cyberbullying: Balancing the Rights of Student Victims and Bullies

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Educators at all levels have long been aware of the harm that bullying can cause. With the explosive growth of social networking sites and instant messaging, however, today’s bullies have many more opportunities to act. What once took place in school hallways and cafeterias can now occur at any time and in any place. The internet allows bullies to reach their victims even when they are at home.

There have been a number of recent tragic stories of students who have committed suicide or violence against others as a result of cyberbullying. Even where cyberbullying does not lead to those kinds of consequences, it can significantly interfere with a student’s ability to learn and to participate fully in school activities.

Unfortunately, schools that seek to prevent and punish cyberbullying often encounter legal challenges. Pennsylvania law requires all elementary and secondary schools to have anti-bullying policies and defines “bullying” to include electronic acts. In addition, Pennsylvania’s statute on bullying policies expressly permits schools to enact policies that prohibit bullying which occurs outside of the school setting as long as the out-of-school acts (1) are directed at another student or students, (2) are severe, persistent, and pervasive, and (3) have the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s education, creating a threatening environment, or substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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