Bullying goes viral

It used to be that a bully would punch Johnny in the nose and steal his lunch money. Now, he or she’s more likely to write a nasty note on Johnny’s Facebook wall and send a withering rebuke to his cell phone via text message. And he or she is more likely to do it outside of school time. So what’s a school to do? That’s the question that educators, especially in hormone-riddled middle schools, are asking themselves as they devote increasing time to disputes started online and off the school clock. Some have been drawn into this fray by parents, who see schools as middle ground between awkward parent-to-parent conversations and drastic police action. But other parents believe that schools shouldn’t intervene and, when it comes to liability, the law is on their side: A recent court case used the famous Vietnam-era Tinker legal test of “school disruption” to find in the favor of a cyberbully, because the dispute she caused with a mean-spirited YouTube-posted video was handled quickly and quietly by the school, and thus wasn’t disruptive. (That is, until it turned into a court case and the videographer’s suspension was overturned.) Gadfly is thinking twice about his Facebook account.

Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray,” by Jan Hoffman, New York Times, June 27, 2010