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Using bullying as ploy to access student’s home computer

Sarasota County School Board Members

Sarasota County School Board members: Back row – Dr. Todd (resigned), Goodwin, Kovach. Front row – Zucker and Chair Brown.

Florida’s Sarasota County School Board will vote to adopt a revised “bullying and harassment” policy at their June 17, 2014 meeting — a move that has some parents asking if students are really being bullied while they are off-campus or using their private computer inside their home.

According to Sarasota County School District Communications Specialist, Scott Ferguson, “The changes to the bullying and harassment policy were recommended by staff based on a state Department of Education requirement that Florida School Board bullying/harassment policies include staff members in addition to students. Staff also recommended clarification about cyber-bullying.”

Paragraph I-B-5 is new. It covers cyber-bullying. The Bullying and Harassment 2.70 revised policy states:

B. The District upholds that bullying or harassment of any student or school employee is prohibited

  1. During any education program or activity conducted by a public K-12 educational institution;
  2. During any school-related or school-sponsored program or activity;
  3. On a school bus of a public K-12 educational institution; or
  4. Through the use of data or computer software that is accessed through a computer, computer system, or computer network of a public K- 12 education institution; or
  5. Through the use of data or computer software that is accessed at a non-school–related location, activity, function, or program or through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased, or used by a school district or school, if the bullying substantially interferes with or limits the victim’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school or substantially disrupts the education process or orderly operation of a school or department. This paragraph does not require a school to staff or monitor any non-school-related activity, function, or program.

Parents and concerned citizens are questioning the Sarasota County School Boards authority to prohibit or be involved in the “monitoring” of student activities while off campus. Many find this a clear overreach in authority and can place students, and others, in a position to “monitor” (spy on) fellow students. The broad language does “not require” but allows schools and staff to monitor non-related activities, functions and programs.

Paragraph II-B defines cyber-bullying as:

Cyberbullying means bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which includes, but is not limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic system, photo-electronic system, or photo-obbptical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, Internet communications, instant messages, or facsimile communications. Cyberbullying includes the creation of a webpage or webblog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person, or the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the conditions enumerated in the definition of bullying. Cyberbullying also includes the distribution by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an electronic medium that may be accessed by one or more persons, if the distribution or posting creates any of the conditions enumerated in the definition of bullying.

Is this a fix to a problem that does not exist?

There are approximately 40,000 students in Sarasota County district schools.

According to Ferguson:

Regarding data on bullying, here are the responses to questions posed to high school students in our district in a recent survey:

During the past 12 months, have you ever been bullied on school property?

(3,408 respondents)

a. Yes

22.3

b. No

77.7

During the past 12 months, have you ever been electronically bullied, such as through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, Web sites, or text messaging?

(3409 respondents)

a. Yes

18.9

b. No

81.1

From the start of the current school year through May 7, there have been 16 expulsions for bullying and 34 expulsions for threats/intimidation.

According to the districts 2014 data .0004 percent of students have been expelled for bullying. The number is so small, yet the policy revisions are so broad. Is the intent to stop bullying or something more nefarious?

Is the Sarasota County School Board using cyber-bullying to infringe on the First Amendment rights of students to freely express themselves on and off campus? Is this school board becoming the NSA of education monitoring of all digital communications? Is this policy a bridge too far in trying to control the behavior of children beyond the school grounds? Is this policy an attempt to stifle students from speaking out based on their beliefs?

Is this policy using a sledge hammer to pound down a ten penny nail?

Children will be children. Peer pressure is both part of growing up and part of life. It is not the role of this or any other school board to decide what is proper behavior and what is not in the cyber world. That is best left up to parents.

For those who may wish to contact the Sarasota County School Board and District staff about the new policy:

To email all School Board members:
boardmembers@sarasotacountyschools.net

Jane Goodwin Chair
jane.goodwin@sarasotacountyschools.net

Frank Kovach Vice Chair
frank.kovach@sarasotacountyschools.net

Shirley Brown
shirley.brown@sarasotacountyschools.net

Caroline Zucker
caroline.zucker@sarasotacountyschools.net

District 1: To be announced

Zoe Marshall,
Administrative Assistant
zoe.marshall@sarasotacountyschools.net

Phone: (941) 927-9000 ext. 31147

Dr. Richard Swier

Dr. Rich Swier is Publisher of www.DrRichSwier e-Magazine. Twitter: @drrichswier He holds a Doctorate of Education from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA, a Master’s Degree in Management Information Systems from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Richard is a 23-year Army veteran who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1990. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his years of service.

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