Schools liable for cyberbullying

Under civil rights law, school officials must act to curb harassment of students off campus and after school, including cyberbullying, declares a “Dear Colleague” from the Education Department. From the Daily Caller:

“Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet… it does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents [but] creates a hostile environment … [which can] limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school,” according to the far-reaching letter, which was completed Oct. 26 by Russlynn Ali, who heads the agency’s civil rights office.

School officials will face lawsuits even when they are ignorant about students’ statements, if a court later decides they “reasonably should have known” about their students’ conduct, said the statement.

. . .  “The school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond… [and] provide additional services to the student who was harassed in order to address the effects of the harassment,” said the letter.

Facebook is adding a feature that will let users “report content to someone in their support system (like a parent or teacher),” Facebook announced March 11 after the White House conference on school bullying. Presumably some children will report perceived harassment to a teacher or principal, making the school responsible for doing something about it.

The National School Board Association objects to expanding schools’ ‘legal risks,” reports Reason.

The remedies being pushed by administration officials will also violate students’ and families’ privacy rights, disregard student’s constitutional free-speech rights, spur expensive lawsuits against cash-strapped schools, and constrict school official’ ability to flexibly use their own anti-bullying policies to manage routine and unique issues, said the NSBA letter.

School officials have a responsibility to protect students from bullying and harassment when they’re in school. Making that a 24/7 obligation . . . It’s too much to ask.

Update: Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, plans to introduce legislation requiring schools that receive federal aid to report bullying to the federal government and specify whether disabled students were involved.

About Joanne


  1. georgelarson says:

    I think the Department of Education is trying to bully the schools:

    “The department’s re-interpretation expands legal risks for schools beyond those set by the Supreme Court in a 1999 decision, said a Dec. 7 NSBA statement. The court decision, which interprets several federal laws, says schools are liable for harassment that school officials know about and that “effectively bars” a student’s access to an educational benefit.”

    Read more:

  2. I would consider it a civil right for government schools to keep the fsck out of my home life.

  3. Sean Mays says:


    I believe the case you are looking for is Hardwick v Bowers. It’s a classic on the government’s rights to come into your home.

    I’d like the schools, government or otherwise to focus on education. Once that’s running fine we can talk about expanding the mandate.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I normally try to be more articulate than this, but this move by the feds is b**sh**.

  5. I agree with George. The school systems are being bullied into doing the jobs of the parents. When has it ever been the school districts responsibility to monitor students behavior off the premise? I think this becomes a parent and law enforcement issue.

  6. Ahhh, yet another unfunded mandate that will require taxpayer money to pay for inefficient and likely unproductive resources.
    Our guidance department is already overwhelmed with Facebook and texting harassment that occurs openly and is brought to their attention, can’t wait until they have to proactively seek out bullying. Perhaps hire someone to masquerade as a student and monitor all student Facebook pages?

  7. If the Republicans are looking for places to save money, the Education Department looks like a really good choice.  Eliminating the Office of Safe and Drug-free Schools and forbidding any DoE or DOJ funds to be spent to investigate or sue schools for activity by private individuals off-campus would put the busybodies out of business, or at least cramp their style.

  8. When I was in school, the jurisdiction of the school was from the time I reached the bus stop in the morning until the time I got back to the bus stop after school (and that was it). When we wanted to fight, we did so off campus and after school hours, and as such, the school or school district couldn’t do about it.

    The district had no authority during non-school hours/days, and they knew better than to try lest a few parents threaten them with lawsuits in my area.

    We fast forward 30 years, and the schools want to stick their nose into everyone’s business (I have no kids, so I’m exempt), but what about parents who home school their kids, does the Dept of Ed (which is a unconstitutional agency, at best) have the right to tell parents what their kids should be learning.

    Give me a break…

  9. SuperSub says:

    I can say based on the past 4 schools I’ve worked in that none ‘wanted’ to stick their nose into anyone’s business… but they did so out of fear of failing to comply with state or federal regulations.