The Kids are Online (All the Time): Remember Cyberbullying Risks

Franczek P.C.
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Franczek P.C.

Whether your students are learning in a remote or a hybrid model, there is no doubt that they are online much more frequently these days than in the past—sometimes, it seems like they are online all the time. All of that time online increases the opportunities that students will be the subjects or perpetrators of cyberbullying. Schools should take steps now to help avoid seeing an uptick in cyberbullying numbers now that the kids are seemingly always online. What are some examples of actions that your school or district can take?

The Problem is Growing

Even before school went virtual, cyberbullying was a growing worldwide problem. A recent study from the U.K., for instance, showed that almost 60 percent of parents reported that their children aged 14 and 18 were bullied, including on social media. Initial research from Light, an organization that monitors online harassment and hate speech, also reportedly shows that cyberbullying has increased 70 percent during stay-at-home orders.  These numbers are stark, but schools can take steps to help prevent seeing any further increase.

Prevention is Part of the Cure

Now is the time to audit your policies and procedures to provide for the most robust protections against cyberbullying. Actions to consider include:

  • Review and update school policies to confirm they adequately address cyberbullying. Issues to consider include whether the scope of your discipline policies is broad enough to address conduct that may occur off-campus and on a student’s own time but has on-campus effects. Remote and hybrid learning may test the bounds of your current policy and procedural language, so a careful review with the new context of learning in mind is essential.
  • Consider the clarity of your mechanisms for reporting and investigating such conduct. Members of your community should have a straightforward method for reporting misconduct, including cyberbullying, including anonymously. Students are not face-to-face with trusted adult caregivers at school, and employees are not necessarily in the school building with supervisors each day. Now is the time to remind members of your community of the methods you have available for reporting. You may need to increase the methods available, such as providing online reporting forms for students, parents, staff, and other groups of individuals.
  • Don’t forget training. We know you already provide training to students and staff regarding responsible internet use. You also discuss issues related to the appropriate use of technology in the general curriculum. But these are challenging times, and it can be challenging to squeeze in all of the steps we took before. Redouble your efforts concerning cyberbullying. Remember that live, interactive trainings are the most effective, including through videoconference.
  • Remind staff of responsibilities and expectations. One of the critical things you should be discussing each year at staff training on cyberbullying is the expectation that employees, particularly those with close contact with students, keep an eye out for evidence of cyberbullying and other misconduct and report it to the appropriate administrator. In addition to training, we recommend that you also provide written reminders to your employees about these responsibilities and expectations. A short memorandum with a reminder can go a long way toward helping your institution meet its obligations to respond to cyberbullying.
  • Reflect on your climate. Remember that one of your administration’s responsibilities is to identify any trends in cyberbullying in your community. This is particularly true for bullying based on protected statuses like race, color, national origin, disability, sex, gender, or gender identity. Because things are changing quickly with the online format of education, it is essential to take your community’s temperature to identify any troubling changes that may exist. Consider informal climate surveys, focus groups, and campaigns to ensure students, parents, staff, and others report misconduct when it occurs. These are all great methods to understand the current climate of cyberbullying in your school.

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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