What Does The Law Say?
There is no actual Australian law that says that a school, public or private in Australia MUST resolve a cyber bullying issue that happens outside of the school grounds, but involves students from the same school. There are certainly recommendations to schools from the Department Of Education in each state and from the A.M.C.A (Australian Media And Communication Authority Cyber Smart Program) to investigate cyber bullying even if it happens out of school grounds. But some Private and Public schools are opting out of getting involved in cyber bullying issues that have essentially been initiated whilst the cyber bully was outside of school.
From Lawstuff: The National Children’s and Youth Law Centre
“Tell the school. If you are being cyber bullied by someone in your school let a teacher or counsellor know. Schools should have discipline policies or codes of conduct to ensure that the bullying or harassment of students is not tolerated at school. These policies should be made known to students and enforced by teachers to ensure that reports of bullying are investigated and dealt with appropriately.”
Note: that it says “in our school” Not “from your school”
From the A.M.C.A Cybersmart.gov.au
Cyberbullying A whole-school community issue Page5:
- “Report cyberbullying:
- Contact your child’s school if it involves another student, so that they can take appropriate action.”
From The Department Of NSW Education:
Cyberbullying: Information for staff in schools
“Is it a school responsibility?
The Student Discipline in Government Schools Policy makes plain “the school discipline policy may apply outside of school hours and off school premises where there is a clear and close connection between the school and the conduct of students”.
Despite the advice from the NSW D.E.T, some schools in NSW are advising cyber bullying victims parents that they, the school, can’t intervene in a cyber bullying issue, because the cyber bullying happened out of school grounds. Some parents are also being told to contact police when it’s clearly not a criminal matter, or being advised by the school to simply block the bully, which might work for a short time until the bully makes another account and starts up again.
This is leaving both parents and victim in a very vulnerable position.
If we take the cyber element out of this, and the same child was being taunted by a child or a group of children from the same school in their neighbourhood to the point of tears, what would a parent do? Approaching the bullies could be really risky, the children might react very badly either toward the victims parent or increase the tormenting of the victim out of revenge. If the victims parent approaches the parents of the bullies it might also result in putting the victims parent as risk, if the other parent doesn’t react well to the approach. It is far safer for the parent to contact the school that all the children attend, the third party in this equation, where it can be mediated and sorted out safely.
It’s really hard to compare these online and offline bullying situations however because of the nature of cyber bullying. The victim may not know exactly who is doing the bullying because the bullies may be going under psudo names, but may have an idea from the reaction of the kids at their school, who is actually involved. Cyber bullying can’t be compared to any offline situation at all, because of the complexities of ease of access to the victim online, pseudonymity and lack of real life trespass.
Opting Out Puts Students And Parents At Risk In More Ways Than One!
By the school opting out of getting involved in cyber bullying between students, it puts both parents and students at risk. The victim may, as a result of inaction and having no where to turn, confront the bully at school and put themselves in a dangerous situation, or simply decide to suffer in silence and possibly retreat into depression. It also puts the parents of the victim in a very vulnerable position, if they feel they have no option but to take matters into their own hands, they may confront the bullies exacerbating the problem, or inform the parents of the bullies and may find the other parents are not happy to deal with the issue at all, and I have certainly heard of some parents having a door literally slammed in their face when they tried to sort it out, and even worse.
This Issue Needs To Be Sorted Out Now!
This is a growing issue in schools who are now dealing with constant complaints from parents and students about incidents that happen online, and most of them are happening outside of school, some on school issued computers. Many schools of course would really rather see parents take more interest and supervision in what their children are doing online to prevent most incidents of cyber bullying, rather than have to deal with so many issues, and police would rather be dealing with actual crime rather than non criminal incidents of online bullying.
To help victims and their parents deal safely with cyber bullying issues, there needs to be more ongoing education of parents, teachers, and students, and a better understanding of the guidelines and laws around cyber bullying when it happens outside of school involving the school community.
The negative results of leaving cyber bullying issues up to the victim and the victims family to sort out, is only going to get worse because of the increasing numbers of children using Internet mobile devices, and the amount of new online platforms and social media that children are joining regardless of age restrictions. Too many children not using these devices responsibly and too many parents not supervising what their children are getting up to online. It is not surprising that the media are being contacted by parents that have resorted to hiring Private Detectives to hunt down cyber bullies!
So What Should Schools Do?
The “official” advice from the Department of Education in most states, is that schools should intervene when students are cyber bullied by other students from the same school even if the cyber bullying was initiated out of school grounds, and particularly so if the bullying is effecting the victims wellbeing in school as a result. It seems it’s up to each school to develop their own cyber bullying policy around that.
What Should Parents Do?
- Definitely don’t give up.
- Don’t approach the suspected bullies, don’t approach the other parents.
- Screen capture/copy the bullying before it gets taken down or erased.
- Protect your child, keep them away from the social network concerned.
- Don’t block the bully until you have got action from the school, or if it is bad enough from the Police.
- If one teacher refuses to action your complaint, go higher if you can. Make an appointment with your child’s school principle.
- Contact the police if the bullying contains threats, ongoing harassment, stalking, defamation or vilification.
A NSW coroner has recommended creating a New Law to cover cyber bullying outside of school grounds after the suicide of 14 year old Alex Wildeman after years of cyber bullying.
Some advice below from www.lawstuff.org.au
“What do I do if my school has not been able to stop the bullying?
You can contact or write a letter of complaint to the Regional Manager of the Department of Education and Training. Your school must give you the Regional Manager’s details if you ask for it. If the school does not provide you with this information, contact the Department of Education and Training in your state and ask to speak to the Manager responsible for your school.
If the Department of Education and Training does not do anything, then you can make a complaint about the Department and the School’s inaction to the Ombudsman.
Getting legal advice
You can seek legal advice. Fixing the problem yourself is probably going to be quicker and make you feel better. But sometimes if nothing else seems to work the law can help. In many cases people engaging in cyber-bullying can be sued for defamation and can be sued for inflicting emotional distress. They may also be charged with various computer crimes. Receiving a letter from a solicitor or a query from police will often bring an end to the bullying and bring parents (and schools) into line by encouraging them to take complaints seriously and more closely supervise the activity of bullies.
Some good websites which deal with cyber bullying
· www.bullyingnoway.com.au can provide you with tactics that you can use to respond to bullying
- www.netalert.net.au also has a hotline you can call if you need help
Also see our counselling page for information about people you can talk to. You don’t have to deal with the problem on your own.”
What is your experience have you had a school opt out of Cyber Bullying?