Educators have the authority to discipline students when they violate school rules, such as getting into a fight on school grounds. But if students act out off campus, it’s up to parents to decide the punishment. The same should go for online activity. If cyberbullying takes place outside of school hours, it should be handled by parents and only brought to the attention of the school administration as necessary, such as if the victim feels unsafe in class.
When schools start to police social media posts, it could infringe on students’ First Amendment right to free speech. In more than one case, courts have ruled that schools can’t limit students’ online posts when they’re outside of class unless the messages cause a “substantial disruption” at school.
Teachers and principals work hard to build strong relationships with their students. It would be terrible if forcing educators to hand out punishments for things that happen outside of class damaged those bonds.
Instead of punishing students, a better way to combat cyberbullying would be for schools to teach appropriate online behavior along with explaining why cyberbullying is wrong and how it can hurt its victims. That way, teachers can be educators, not full-time disciplinarians.
—Edwin C. Yohnka
Director of Communications and Public Policy,
American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois