Technology has changed the way teachers teach and students learn. It’s been evolutionary – from iPads to electronic notebooks and laptops to apps and other tools – making the classroom a collaborative and interactive space for students to learn. Along with these advances and new teaching tools also come emerging risks and exposures that educational institutions and educators face, including cyber bullying.
Social Media & Cyber bullying
Today many kids own mobile devices – smartphones and tablets – and us them to communicate with their parents, teachers, school coaches, other students and friends. They also use these devices to access social media platforms. In fact it’s estimated that of teenage girls aged twelve to seventeen, 95% of them use the Internet, and 81% of them use social media. They’re using Snapchat and Instagram to upload selfies and to let their friends know where they are, and WeChat for mobile chatting. And, Facebook has become a preteen paradise to promote peer interaction and 5th-grade drama.
But what happens when that text, Facebook post or Instagram photo is used for cyber bullying? What is the responsibility of a school when cyber bulling takes place? This is a complex issue especially if the bullying occurs after school hours. Yet all are looking to educational schools to step in and help stem the problem of bullying, including that which is taking place in the digital world.
In fact, schools are being charged by legislators to take action to reduce cyber bullying because of its potential to disrupt the educational process, create a hostile environment, and threaten students’ feelings of safety and mental well-being at school. Many states have anti-bullying laws with some stricter than others. For example, in Massachusetts, school districts are required to document their bullying prevention and intervention policies and procedures. In response, many but not all school districts have made progress on plans to improve and expand anti-bullying curriculum across all grade levels and enhance policies and procedures for addressing incidents. But there is still more that can be done, including getting a coordinated effort between the parents and the schools, including instituting parent focus groups. These groups are designed to gain an understanding from the parents’ perspectives on school-based and on-line anti-bullying efforts and how parents view their own roles and responsibilities in safeguarding their children against cyber bullying.
Furthermore, legislation throughout a majority of the states has also put the responsibility square on the shoulders of schools to take action when cyber bullying takes place on and off the property. Schools are accountable for investigating all incidents, providing support and a safe school environment for victims, and providing education and consequences, as necessary, for perpetrators. If a school doesn’t take the appropriate action, it could found itself embroiled in a liability lawsuit alleging negligence.
What’s important is that educational institutions foster a culture of zero tolerance for bullying of any form and implement ongoing robust risk management practices and training, complemented by a sound educators liability insurance program. The insurance program should include directors and officers liability and professional liability in the event that claims are made against a school, alleging that it did not have the processes in place to prevent a bullying incident from occurring and the safeguards necessary to protect a child. Even if a school or its public officials are not found culpable, the cost to defend such claims is significant. Therefore, it’s imperative the right insurance coverages are secured for schools and their officials and educators.