During the school year, instances of cyber bullying through social media networks like Facebook or Twitter are reported weekly, Hatboro-Horsham School District Superintendent Curtis Griffin said.
Just how often school administrators intervene is something that will continue to be handled “case by case,” Jack Dooley, the district’s attorney said.
In reviewing its existing bullying and cyber bullying policies during Monday night’s meeting, administrators and school board members discussed what role the district should play in cyber bullying, particularly when purported bullying takes place out of school.
“I don’t think we need to be the police and the DA’s office for everybody,” board member Louis Polaneczky said. “Have we done enough to exclude things that really aren’t our jurisdiction?”
Dooley said the issue requires some “nexus” for the school environment.
“It’s not a substitution for the crimes code,” Dooley said. “You may not consider yourselves the government, but you are.”
Griffin said there have been instances where what began as cyber bullying outside of school spilled over and became a school issue. Griffin shared an instance where a student who had been cyber bullied last school year punched the bully when he got off of the school bus.
“We do blur that line every day on the social network issue,” Griffin said. “The middle school is the most difficult.”
According to the district’s bullying and cyber bullying policy, bullying is defined as “an intentional electronic, written, verbal or physical act or series of acts directed at another student or students, which occurs in a school setting and/or outside a school setting that is severe, persistent or pervasive.” The policy goes on to say such behavior results in a “substantial interference with a student’s education,” creates a “threatening environment” and causes “substantial disruption of the orderly operation of school.”
Griffin said what constitutes bullying varies from person to person and depends on “the eyes of the receiver.”
“In the old days, someone passed a note,” Griffin said. “Now, that note isn’t paper, it’s electronic.”
To resolve issues before they worsen, Griffin suggested that parents stay abreast to what their kids are doing online and what their Facebook friends and other social media acquaintances are posting.
In terms of athletes, Griffin said the district can and will suspend players from sports programs for failure to follow the district’s code of conduct, which covers behavior inside and outside of school.
Hatboro-Horsham High School rising senior Sean Raymond said anti-bullying efforts should begin much sooner, possibly as soon as first-grade.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of education and cyber bullying,” Raymond said. “We can start dealing with it a lot earlier.”