The question of whether or not students caught cyberbullying, even off campus, should face sanctions at school is debatable. A good number of educational institutions already have legislation that regulates the interpersonal relationship among students within and beyond campus. Even so, it is hard to admit it has halted or obliterated online harassment, or cyberbullying. It is safe to say legislation has always been and will forever be an indispensable tool of crime deterrence. The statement does make a lot of sense, but quaere does not it have negative fallouts? American authorities enacted the dry law and legislation prohibiting illegal substance consumption; however, people no more stopped consuming alcohol than they refrained from drugs. All authorities achieved was people’s consuming both alcohol and drugs illegally, without abandoning habits, however harmful. The same applies to aggressive students who will carry out covert attacks against their peers by pushing them in places other than the internet now that legislation allows school officials to spot their illicit online activities. Calling off anti-bullying legislation, and subsequent disciplinary sanctions are questionable options as they may leave students more exposed to violent pushing to occur both online and in everyday life. Point is that off-campus bullying is a controversial matter, with some experts suggesting that off-campus bullying should be punished, and other pundits insisting such perpetrations should go unnoticed.
According to Kannan and Chen (n.p.), California put an anti-bullying bill into force on January 1, which gave the green light for punishing bullies off-campus. More specifically, school superintendents or administrators were authorized to suspend or expel bullies who were caught texting, emailing or publishing threats via social networks. As per the previous law, punishment implied only suspensions or recommendations for expulsion. This piece of legislation has already garnered a decent amount of criticism for infringing on privacy and the freedom of speech (Kannan & Chen, n.p.). Rigby (n.p.) claims that it is easier to control bullying by means of negative consequences, such sanctions, penalties, and punishments. Such an approach serves as a deterrent tool against bullies for everyone’s edification. This notwithstanding, the application of such measures should never be employed. As many as 75% of school authorities erroneously believe the tool to be efficient enough to apply it, even when handling mild cases of bullying. However, it proves to be of little result since bullies will not stop pushing other classmates, whether on-campus or off-campus. More than that, they resort to the arsenal of attacks that will be hard to identify and punish, not to mention an army of fans that may grow in support of an offender who defies the system and manages to stand victorious as a result (Rigby, n.p.). With that said, there arises a controversy of whether sanctioning off-campus and spying on students is a must-take measure.
LoMonte (n.p.) admits, “Given how avidly many school administrators censor on-campus speech by students engaging in legitimate editorial commentary or whistleblowing activity”. School officials given similar off-campus discretion may pose a serious risk to students’ right to free speech (LoMonte n.p.). The experts seemingly points to a big-brother-is-watching-you situation when students have their rights infringed by a supervising school administration who watch there might be no attempts of bullying; still, not without bias or a measure of unprofessionalism. LoMonte (n.p.) thinks that expressing a personal attitude towards school staff online should be unpunishable since it bears no relation to arranging strikes and protests at school to this effect, which is unacceptable. With that in mind, the expert supports those cases when students’ remarks are more of a peaceful and decent revelation of emotions than an actual act of bullying teachers online. As may be deduced from this opinion, sanctions are pointless when bullying is nothing more than constitutionally provided act of self-expression.
Gullickson (n.p.) opines that on-campus sanctioning or punishing is a good measure that does not need to be extended to off-campus time if, of course, bullying does not affect the educational process, teaching staff or school peers. The expert believes that a school should not intrude into cases that deal with brute online threats, which force the bullied into staying at home instead of going to school. Here is where police, a law enforcement agency, is supposed to handle conflicts (Gullickson, n.p.). In all probability, the expert suggests rendering to Caesar things that are Caesars, metaphorically speaking. Gullickson (n.p.) also strongly suggest that school be capable of distinguishing between cyberbullying and casual 10-minute interpersonal misunderstandings between friends who are quick to forget short-lived disputes, though accompanied by words unbecoming of an American student. Additionally, there might be unintentional juvenile jokes with implications of murders and other illicit activities that should not be treated as bullying, much less attempted murders (Gullickson, n.p.).
According to Dryden (166), though current anti-bullying legislation let's school officials protect learning environment from cyberbullies, it does not protect off-campus cyber expression and its legal forms. Not only does the lack of unambiguous legislation leave students guessing regarding what types of off-campus expression are provided for in the First Amendment, but it also creates a real breeding ground for protracted judicial proceedings. According to Coy v. Board of Education of North Canton Schools (n.p.) and Latour v. Riverside Beaver School District (n.p.), vague legal provisions, bleary definition of bullying and ambiguous classification may cause school officials to impose illegitimate sanctions on students for online self-expression that is anything but unlawful (qtd in Dryden 167). Judging by the lawsuits cited by Joe Dryden, the miscarriages of justice might be the case when legislation imperfection causes judges to pass unlawful sentences. Here, judges do nothing else but violate the First Amendment, which becomes a reason enough to issue counterclaims and further compromise school staff and legislation that allows erroneous punitive sanctions.
However, there is one big, nay, weighty, but to be taken into consideration. According to Dryden (167), the First Amendment does protect the freedom of speech, which is voicing one’s attitude towards matters of public concerns, without being penalized, unless it trespasses on the interests of the republic and other people’s rights, such as personal immunity. Based on this argument, abusive off-campus online misbehavior that implies the defamation and mockery of schoolfellows and staff requires sanctioning. On no account should the First Amendment protect such abusers (Dryden 167). According to J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District (308), school officials are constitutionally permitted to supervise students’ speech or online self-expression as well as take measures if an attitude is verbalized through vulgar, licentious, and swear words without any rational grounds (qtd. in Dryden 170). If free expression of attitude and mindset culminates in a cyberbullying-induced suicide, it should never be considered the right to exercise civil liberties. Hence, school staff need to handle such acts of cyber-harassment and that promptly; however, there should be no mistakes whatsoever with regard to the classification of an act of online bullying.
Markey (n.p.) and May (n.p.) believe that 1 out of 3 students is subject to cyberbullying carried out by means of gadgets, which makes the border between online harassment off-campus and on-campus very bleary (qtd. in Dryden 165). In other words, high-tech devices baffle the classification of cyberbullying and the identification of its precise location. It hardly means off-campus harassment should go unaddressed by school authorities who may seek to find an abuse to have taken place outside school area and thus stand aloof. Be it inside or outside school, abuse does not lose its intensity and negative impact when carried out against a young individual; what is more, it is at school that assault and battery usually unfold only to continue on the internet, which does connect people. Still, school authorities need to stand between a person assaulted and an assaulter to minimize this connection and possible psychological repercussions. Archer (n.p.), Halligan (n.p.), and Meyer (n.p.) are inclined to believe that the victims of unlawful verbal intimidation and harassment may end up committing suicide (qtd. in Dryden 166). In other words, if a school fails to address each case of bullying by imposing disciplinary sanctions for deterring a bully from further heinous assaults, it risks having a person assaulted commit suicide. The best way to wean children from bullying is to visualize the possible repercussions and send a crystal-clear message to potential offenders through the above-mentioned penalties. Who better to demonstrate negative outcomes than teachers who must take measures?
According to Dryden (168-169), off-campus online harassment of school personnel is of larger impact, with the entire campus affected in the aftermath. A teacher bullied is a teacher sidelined, in other words, once verbally assaulted, a teacher is as good as depressed and is clearly unable to perform professional duties, which is sure to take its toll on hundreds of students who will under-receive knowledge at worst. School administrators being targeted by students conducting off-campus online attacks has the potential of undermining the entire “culture” of an educational establishment (Dryden 169). Such acts of abuse will take place in the internet that grants anonymity and helps avoid face-to-face confrontation and immediate consequences. The matter is that vindictive students tend to seek revenge anywhere other than a hostile area – that is to say, in the internet that gives a fallacious sense of security and impunity. Online attacks against teacher is a good case in point that proves sanctions are needed. If left unaddressed such cases of abuse will almost likely create schism and ill working atmosphere as well as spreading disciplinary havoc.
Dryden (170) suggests that cyberbullying issues should be resolved the same way sexual harassment cases are. According to Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (n.p.), if teachers were to show indifference and little-to-no participation in a bullying resolution, personal responsibility would lie with them (qtd. in Dryden 170). Whether on-campus or off-campus, teaching staff participation and corrective measures, with punitive sanctions that they imply, are a strict must, otherwise teachers will be amenable for a deliberate inactivity. According to Dryden (167), even with legal provisions and caveats in place, officials may be unsuccessful in protecting the victims of cyberbullying who have not so many options left. What legislators should do to address off-campus bullying is remove ambiguities and loopholes that have created a plethora of unpleasant legal precedents this far.
According to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (N.P.), Hugo Black, a former Supreme Court Associate Justice, envisaged the future when students would get used to going as far as abuse their peers and teachers without any fear of getting punished (qtd. in Dryden 171). He saw students exercise their adult free expression right, without showing an inch of responsibility. As per his prediction, students would dare challenge teachers’ authority by verbally confronting them and then filing lawsuits. According to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (525), Justice Hugo Black admitted that American public schools would be subject to “the whims and caprices of the loudest-mouthedbut not the brightest students”(qtd. in Dryden 171).
With that in mind, the former Justice of the Supreme Court hinted at frivolous actions that have become a disappointing trademark of American legal system, more specifically, its anti-bullying legislation and courts that tend to back down more often than not to ungrounded demands of offenders whose lawyers shield them behind constitutional laws they misinterpret. Clearly, judges should not abide by the First Amendment as long as abusive bullying is a wanton act of a pointless vengeance if and when meting out punishment in the shape of sanctions or expulsion. If legislative shortcomings have already resulted in young abusers’ finding unjust acquittal, imagine how far off-campus cyberbullying will go if not tackled. Americans may go on not noticing online bullying beyond campus, without even forcing offenders to find legal loopholes and defend themselves in court in a winning effort.
Dryden (171) notes that students will only benefit from school officials’ being put in position to impose reasonable sanctions for off-campus bullying, as they will learn the boundaries of constitutionally protected speech. Staff will administer rational justice so that offenders will fathom the repercussions of such actions likely to arise in their adult life. They will already be less willing to commit assault and battery or verbally maltreat coworkers, knowing that firing, if not legal proceeding, may be on the horizon. Jobless status aside, well-timed minor sanctions may defend victims and prevent them from suicidal attempts (Dryden 171). As far as unprofessional as well as biased decisions on the part of school online supervisors is concerned, there appears the question of why not make school administrators abide by statutes that will make it possible for them to distinguish between cyberbullying, or the lack thereof.
Overall, off-campus cyberbullying is a tremendous controversy that has generated plenty of public attention and reaction from lawmakers, civil rights advocates, parents, and children. Some experts believe that spying on students beyond school is tantamount to the violation of privacy and the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment. However, there should be a small proviso made. Where ostensibly needed freedom of speech implies the publication of messages that run counter to the interests of the USA and its citizens whose personality is immune, so is there right to receive education under safe and healthy conditions. If left unaddressed the acts of cyberbullying may cause students to commit suicides, teachers to have their equanimity upset, school reputation and culture to be ruined or heavily compromised. Thus, school officials would better not refrain from addressing cyberbullying issues that are the case beyond school. Still, it should be borne in mind that there is always a dividing line between a short-termed quarrel between friends or a juvenile joke and an act of cyberbullying that needs tackling before it is too late to do anything about it.
Dryden, Joe. “School Authority over Off-campus Student Expression in the Electronic Age: Finding a Balance between a Student’s Constitutional Right To Free Speech and the Interest of School in Protecting School Personnel and Other Students from Cyberbullying, Defamation, and Abuse.” University of North Texas. December 2010. 1-172. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
Gullickson, Lydia. “Schools Should Limit Off-campus Interference.” Veritas. n.d. n.p. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
Kannan, Deepti, & Chen, Sabrina. “New Legislation Grants Californian School the Right to Punish off-campus Cyberbullying.” Falcon Online. 12 February 2014. n.p. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
LoMonte, Frank, D. “Zero Tolerance for Online Bullying Can Hamper Free Speech.” American Bar Association. 28 September 2012. n.p. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
Rigby, Ken. “Bullying Interventions in Schools.” Wiley-Blackwell. 2012. n.p. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.