The State Board of Education is rightly concerned about the growing problem of bullying, particularly the recent trend of students using social media and electronic devices to harass and bully other students.
The board’s proposal to issue an edict that all schools educate their students about the ramifications of such behavior — both academic and legal — shows good sense. But education officials might be treading on shaky ground when they propose to get involved in what students do outside school, using devices the school doesn’t own.
The board gave preliminary approval last week to a rule requiring schools to include specifics in their policies about how students may and may not use both their school-owned and private electronic devices.
The board would be acting properly to help students understand that they could face criminal prosecution for what’s called cyberbullying and that schools will not tolerate students mistreating one another or school employees during school hours or at school functions, whether the devices used belong to the school or to the individual.
School districts and individual schools should also adopt consistent rules statewide that allow for students to be expelled or suspended for cyberbullying. Most schools already have such policies. School officials should also report such behavior to police and to parents.
In fact, involving parents when bullying is suspected is probably the most important part of the process. And that should include parents of both the victims and the bullies.
However, principals and superintendents should check on the legality of taking action against cyberbullies when the bullying takes place off-campus and privately owned devices are used. Some districts already punish students who cyberbully outside of school. Granite School District takes action if bullying leads to distraction in the classroom, even when it happens somewhere else. While it’s easy to understand why school officials want to extend their control, it might be better to report their suspicions to police and let them handle those cases.
Bullying of any type is intolerable. The self-esteem of children and teens is fragile, and they have a difficult time handling mistreatment by their peers. Far too many suicides have been traced to bullying at schools in Utah and across the country. Gay students are often targeted.
Bullies should be taught not only that what they’re doing is illegal but also that harassing classmates because they are "different" shows a level of ignorance and hostility that society in general will not and should not tolerate.
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