Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bullying is cause for Expulsion

I await the results of California's foray into social science, to whit, the new law making cyberbullying punishable by expulsion.
The bill, know as AB 746, or the Cyber Bully Prevention bill, was championed by Assemblymember Nora Campos (D-San José). It has become official California law following Governor Brown’s signature. AB 746 declares that posts made on social network sites are covered under the Education Code anti-bullying provisions and allows school officials to suspend student violators. California law allows for the suspension of a student for bullying, including bullying by electronic acts.
I'm assuming they've figured out
  • how to identify the true culprit from other than circumstantial evidence. I, for example, have two facebook accounts and I recommend that students and teachers do as well. One is my squeaky-clean page, the other is anonymous. There are easy ways to set up a blog or a facebook account without much of a trail.  Police can figure it out with a judge's warrant and a bucketload of time but probably have more things on their mind than Suzy calling Jenny a "whore-slut" online. A smart kid posts the nasty, waits for reaction and then deletes it. A smarter kid posts "Hey, did you hear about what Jenny did?" The smartest bully gets everyone to unfriend the victim and bullies in the old-fashioned way by shouting things when adults aren't around.
  • how to deal with a bully who just shuts up and whose parents get a lawyer. What? Did you expect any different? Are you going to subpoena something? Got some proof it was my client? His account got "hacked" and he would never write that. It didn't work for Weiner but it would for a nameless 10th grader.  Don't forget due process laws, confidentiality rules and all that.  How do you deal with accounts set to "private".  What, are they going to require accounts and passwords from every student or "friend" them all?
    Bullies are everywhere. The harder you look, the more you'll find.
  • how to deal with the natural school administration tendency of reading a law and then interpreting everything as being applicable from the most minor to the most major. The Sledgehammer Effect.
  • how to deal with the ever-slippery slope of the word "bullying" and the growing tendency of teenagers to be offended (mostly because the counselors in their lives are so anxious to tell them they are.). 
  • how expulsion will help. The recent case in Massachusetts would not have been helped by expulsion of the major parties. They would simply have become more antagonistic and less public, making the situation spiral out of control that much faster.   A minor issue blown up to a major one does not resolve the issue. A major issue blown up to an expulsion case pushes the problem out of the hands of the school but doesn't solve it.
  • how the same officious twerps who can't deal with problems themselves but are always running to the police (euphemistically called "School Resource Officers")  are going to deal with social media and modern technology. Hell, mine can't even set up surveymonkey polls without help.
  • how to suspend or expel an already expelled student (repeat offender) or one who is not currently in school, whether graduated or bullies from one school and victims in another -- which school officials are involved?
My biggest complaint is that I can't see that school officials have jurisdiction here, but maybe this law circumvents that pesky Constitutional problem. If the kids can't get on Facebook during the day at school, then all of this must be happening at home.  This makes it a parental problem calling for a parental solution.  If the issue escalates beyond what the parents can or will handle, then it becomes a civil problem. If it escalates further, it becomes a criminal problem.

recently, the third Judicial Court
issued two simultaneous opinions to resolve how much control high schools may exercise over their students’ off-campus, online speech. In Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the judges held that school officials cannot, “reach into a child’s home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school sponsored activities.”  In the two respective cases, students had been disciplined for creating MySpace profiles intended to mock their principals.  The Third Circuit ruled that schools cannot punish students’ online speech simply because it is vulgar, lewd, or offensive.

In my interpretation, if speech rises beyond that limit, as bullying can do, then it becomes a civil or criminal offense but, again, not a scholastic one. Schools are spectacularly ill-equipped to handle this issue.

Two anecdotes that color my thinking.
A says to B "That's so gay." and kid C overhears it and is convinced by counselors to be offended and everybody is called to the office, meetings with parents and kids happen, and everyone is thoroughly frustrated and it only makes the matter worse because it was only an off-hand comment in the first place. Over-reaction is all too common and makes minor matters worse and makes major bullies more retractable.

It is much better handled low-key as I witnessed about two months ago. A good friend of mine is a teacher up north and he is openly gay. Because he is my friend and he commented, the conversation appeared in my facebook feed. I saw a comment by a kid saying "That's gay!" in the normal, stupid way. My friend replied "Ahem." The kid instantly retracted it and apologized profusely, promising not to repeat the mistake. Simply done, effective and long-lasting.

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