District revises cyber bullying policy
MT. PLEASANT—The North Sanpete School Board has revised a rule on cyber bullying in the high school student handbook to give a lot more detail about what type of language is “prohibited.”
The school board modified the rule after 50-plus parents and other citizens signed a letter drafted by a California First Amendment attorney.
The letter, dated Aug. 5, and addressed to Superintendent Sam Ray contended that any attempt to “restrict” or “punish” speech was a violation of free-speech rights in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And it demanded revisions to the rule before school started.
The revised rule, approved at a school board meeting Tuesday, Aug. 16, retains a statement that “administration reserves the right to restrict any individual from attending a school-sponsored event” if the person has engaged in any behavior that “causes material and substantial disruption within the school…”
But unlike the original rule, the new policy doesn’t specify that parents or students who post malicious remarks in social media will be barred from two home athletic contests.
The new language, drafted with the guidance of a school district attorney, states, “It is the intent of this provision (policy) to encourage civil discourse in the school community and to help students of the district learn to communicate their disagreements with respect and decorum.
The policy adds, “Credible threats of violence against school employees or students, harassment, bullying or cyber-bulling…and malicious lies or smear campaigns, no matter the forum or medium, are prohibited.”
During the school board meeting, Superintendent Ray said the request to add a rule on cyber bullying to the student handbook came from coaches at North Sanpete High School, who reported reading an outpouring of degrading posts from both parents and students on social media sites.
The original stated called for denying a student or parent access to two home games if either engaged in cyber-bullying.
About 10 patrons opposed to the original handbook rule appeared at the school board meeting.
“We don’t want to ban anyone from our events, certainly not our community members,” Superintendent Ray told people at the board meeting. “But we do have a professional and ethical obligation to protect students from bullying.”
“We’re not trying to do anything egregious,” Rich Brotherson, school board president, told parents. “If you’ve got any ideas on how to control this, offer them.”
“I keep coming back to reinforcing the positive,” Jamie Webb of Spring City, a parent, said. “Legally, there is nothing you can do to enforce or punish the negative.”
Webb suggested educating people, and “rallying around those who need support,” could create a domino effect against cyber bullying.
Mark Hightower of Mt. Pleasant said he was neither in support nor opposition to the new policy, although has concerns with the current version.
Hightower said he has a child who was “victimized” and “humiliated” through bullying last year using a school app and social media sites.
“This can’t be tolerated and punishment must be carried out case-by-case because it’s our experience that there is no one-size-fits all zero tolerance policy,” he said.
“A student doesn’t need a scarlet letter painted on them, possibly affecting the remainder of their school years.”
At the same time, Hightower said he wanted to encourage the board to do the “right thing” constitutionally.
Ray noted that a technology handbook given to all students already talks about cyber-bulling, including offering a definition of cyber-bullying, describing types of cyber-bullying, and the expressing the district’s position on cyber-bullying and digital citizenship.
The technology handbook encourages parents and students to report any incident of cyber-bullying to school personnel immediately, and to remember all digital activities using school property are monitored and retained.
The handbook says engaging in such activity will result in the students “loss of academic and/or school privileges, and may result in referral to law enforcement.”
Ray said the district is reaching out to other districts for insight and to get clear examples so it can achieve its goals of stopping cyber bullying.
“We want the best for our kids,” Brotherson said. “It’s not an easy balance.”