by Katie Depaola
Administrators informed students during an assembly in September that the school can access any inappropriate social media activity that students engage in, and that the school is required to take action when it sees cyberbullying and other negative school-related posts online.
The school’s policy on harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) allows the school to impose consequences for cyberbullying, whether it occurs on or off school grounds. The school can get involved as long as it is “reasonably necessary” for the victimized pupil’s “physical or emotional safety and well-being,” according to the board of education’s policy.
Consequences are also warranted when student conduct goes against the rules of the school, as defined in the Student Handbook.
The school must also report HIB to the police, according to New Jersey state law.
“We don’t always receive reports of cyberbullying as it happens. This is based on the fact that the majority of cyberbullying is handled on the school level, without law enforcement interaction,” said Union County Sergeant Michael Hoose. “Although keeping the numbers down would be the goal, what’s more problematic is what damage has already been
done once reported.”
Consequences of cyberbullying and inappropriate school-related posts depend on the nature of the post. If the school receives information on a post, students will be reprimanded.
“There are a variety of ways to determine if a social media post needs to be addressed,” said Principal David Heisey, Ed.D. “Two of the reasons would include: if the post could have an impact on teaching and learning at the high school and/or if it is considered harassment, intimidation, or bullying based on the New Jersey state law.”
There have been a variety of student reactions, both positive and negative, regarding the new regulations.
“I do not feel that cyberbullying should be dealt with in school unless the student desires to bring the problem to the school’s attention, the problem is affecting the student’s learning abilities, or the issue is causing physical harm to the student,” said an anonymous student who has been cyberbullied many times.
“The school takes things too seriously at times, causing a big fuss, and in the end, they can dig the victim of harassment into a deeper hole and make them feel uncomfortable.”
However, some students argue that the school should always deal with cyberbullying because it could have a positive result.
“I believe that the school should always get involved with cyberbullying. There comes a time when the school has better resources than at home,” said junior Nicole Van Etten, a member of the Anti-Bullying Club. “The school has the counseling and the support for anyone being bullied. There is also so much help available at the high school for bullies to become better people as well.”
Some students choose to discuss student social media activity with teachers and administrators, even when the posts are not causing any harm. This is just one of the many ways that the administration sees social media posts.
“It’s uncalled for when social media posts, excluding cyberbullying, are discussed with teachers. Unless these students are the ones talking about the teacher, it’s not their business,” said sophomore Kate Musso.
Students have not only been getting in trouble for cyberbullying; some students have also gotten in trouble for making angry or inappropriate social media posts about teachers.
“I once tweeted about my teacher out of anger after getting an unfair grade. I don’t regret tweeting it because I think that students should be able to write whatever they want on social networks, besides cyberbullying, without having the school get involved. It is our personal life, and we have freedom of speech,” said another anonymous student who was confronted by her teacher about a tweet.
Like it or not, the school has access to social media. It is up to students to decide how they will act online, and knowledge of potential monitoring by school officials might be having a positive effect.
“Students have learned to exercise restraint,” said Heisey.