Schools try to control cyberbullying

Schools — especially middle schools — are trying to figure out how to respond to cyberbullying, reports the New York Times. Educators are reluctant to assert authority over what students do on their own time. Some parents wants schools to intervene; others say it’s none of the school’s business.

. . . one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected.

The law is unsettled. So far, “rulings have been contradictory,” the Times reports.

The principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in New Jersey asked parents to ban social networking for their children. Meredith Wearley, the school’s seventh-grade guidance counselor, spends much of her time dealing with “cyberdrama.”

“In seventh grade, the girls are trying to figure out where they fit in,” Mrs. Wearley said. “They have found friends but they keep regrouping. And the technology makes it harder for them to understand what’s a real friendship.”

Because students prefer to use their phones for texting rather than talking, Mrs. Wearley added, they often miss cues about tone of voice. Misunderstandings proliferate: a crass joke can read as a withering attack; did that text have a buried subtext?

The girls come into her office, depressed, weeping, astonished, betrayed.

. . . They show Mrs. Wearley reams of texts, the nastiness accelerating precipitously.

“It’s easier to fight online, because you feel more brave and in control,” an eighth-grade girl tells the Times. “On Facebook, you can be as mean as you want.”

Online harassment can begin in fourth grade. By high school, cyberbullies are craftier but their victims tend to be more resilient.

A few families have successfully sued schools for failing to protect their children from bullies. But when the Beverly Vista School in Beverly Hills, Calif., disciplined Evan S. Cohen’s eighth-grade daughter for cyberbullying, he took on the school district.

After school one day in May 2008, Mr. Cohen’s daughter, known in court papers as J. C., videotaped friends at a cafe, egging them on as they laughed and made mean-spirited, sexual comments about another eighth-grade girl, C. C., calling her “ugly,” “spoiled,” a “brat” and a “slut.”

J. C. posted the video on YouTube. The next day, the school suspended her for two days.

Cohen, a music industry lawyer in Los Angeles, won a $107,150 in costs and legal fees  from the district after a federal judge ruled the video hadn’t caused the school “substantial” disruption.

Judge Wilson also threw in an aside that summarizes the conundrum that is adolescent development, acceptable civility and school authority.

The good intentions of the school notwithstanding, he wrote, it cannot discipline a student for speech, “simply because young persons are unpredictable or immature, or because, in general, teenagers are emotionally fragile and may often fight over hurtful comments.”

The lawyer father said he told his daughter the video “wasn’t a nice thing to do,” but kept it on  YouTube “as a public service” so viewers can see “what kids get suspended for in Beverly Hills.”

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  1. Let me get this straight.

    As a teacher, I’m now going to find my responsibilities and those of my school expanded beyond what we currently are expected to do (teach kids, discipline kids, feed kids 2 meals a day, provide them with free school supplies, access to social services, daycare for their children, medical treatment from 7:00 to 3:00) to monitoring their communications and activities the other 16 hours a day and on weekends? Surely you jest!

    Be a parent and take care of YOUR responsibilities towards YOUR child. If another kid is picking on your child, you need to act. Call the other kids’ parents or call the cops — or I will call CPS because you are engaged in criminal neglect of your child as surely as if you refused to take your child to the doctor with a broken arm or failed to feed the kid.

  2. The lawyer father said he told his daughter the video “wasn’t a nice thing to do,” but kept it on YouTube “as a public service” so viewers can see “what kids get suspended for in Beverly Hills.”

    I’m fairly certain that this cretin doesn’t know what “nice” means, given that his idea of public service is to keep a video up of his daughter and others being vicious about another girl. If he wants to know why his daughter is a jerk, he should look in the mirror.

  3. Carol Neilson says:

    Why couldn’t C.C.’s parents sue Hollywoodman and his daughter for invasion of privacy for posting (and then leaving it up) on YouTube? I know that when people don’t have an expectation of privacy outside, but I would think in school students would?

  4. Thanks for posting. Evan Cohen is clearly representative of the entitled creeps who seem to flock to entertainment law. I pity his children growing up with such a poor example of humanity, and a warped perception of basic kindness. If you want to understand why so many children who grow up in Beverly Hills have totally warped value systems and end up being nasty people and drug abusers, look no further than Evan Cohen.

  5. Mike– I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. Cohen’s a music biz lawyer, and he’s tough as nails, which you need to be in music ( he represents Harry Nilsson and Ornette Coleman, to name a couple of clients.) Entitled? If street fighters are “entitled”.

    Yes, his kid did a mean thing, but no, it wasn’t disruptive enough for his kid to be suspended–by 8th grade, I think people know enough to get up and walk out of camera range, esp. in LA. Why didn’t the school notice she was taping in the lunch room?

  6. Oh….Cohen represents Harry Nilsson, et al. All is forgiven. Jeeze, suck up much? And what does “If street fighters are entitled” even mean?

  7. Why didn’t the school notice she was taping in the lunch room?

    Because it did not happen at school, nor was it posted from school. That is why Dad sued and won.

  8. Cyberbullying can be a serious problem that not only parents need to be concerned with. It happens to people online all the time. Here we’ve written an article about what big kids can do if the are subject to cyberbullying:

  9. And the daughter couldn’t be sued for libel/defamation?

  10. Evan Cohen says:

    For the record, I did not represent Harry Nilsson or Ornette Coleman. I have represented many other musicians, songwriters, and the heirs of songwriters.

    Our case was about the limits on governmental power. Nothing happened at school. Students could not even look at the video at school. Please read the case for all of the details. It was not taken at the school lunchroom, rather, it was far from campus.

    Evan Cohen


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