Face hate group

An alarming number of cases have appeared in the news concerning students who have formed teacher hate groups on Facebook, some of which have included students threatening to kill their teachers.
Should disciplinary actions in these cases fall under the jurisdiction of the school or parents, or should the courts be involved? The following articles feature cases in which parents either supported school action or did not.
  1. Is it right for schools to discipline students for making threats or creating hate groups on Facebook when the violations are made at home? If not, who is responsible for correcting this behavior? Is it the parents or should legal action be taken?
  2. Do you believe that these students were just innocently venting? Do these cases fall under freedom of speech or should these students be charged with crimes such as defamation of character?
  3. If you were the teacher at the center of these cyber bully attacks, how would that make you feel? Would you ignore it or report it to your superiors? Do you feel such defamation is harmful to your career?
  4. Does your school have guidelines, or has it been addressed in the AUP, on how to handle threats and cyber bullying of teachers on Facebook and other social networking cites?


When should the courts be involved?
According to California Attorney Genie de Freitas, schools need to be aware of what falls under the law and what does not. Ms. de Freitas recommends that educators be aware of the following:

  • Students are protected under the First Amendment for comments such as: "My teacher sucks!" or "I hate this teacher and hope she dies!"
  • Consult your state laws for libel, but here are general guidelines to know:
    • A child is guilty of libel if "(1) a false statement was made, (2) the person making the statement knows it is false, (3) the false statement was communicated to a third party, (4) that false statement made a negative impact on the person it was made against. (i.e., not that it hurt their feelings, but that they lost their job or faced other serious consequences)."
    • In regards to (2) know that "if the person making the statement thinks it is true then no libel has occurred."
  • As for students making threats, there is no First Amendment protection. In previous cases "the courts have agreed that once you take a substantial step towards the commission of a crime you are in violation of the law. It is now a crime and the police are to get involved."

(G. de Freitas, personal communication, March 29, 2010)

What should schools do?

  • Schools should establish policies that inform all parties (i.e., students, parents, and staff) when the school will take disciplinary action and when law enforcement has to be involved.
  • As a teacher, educate your students that what they may perceive as simply "venting" or "payback" may be a serious crime or violation of the AUP. Tell them to take time to calm down before getting online.
  • Tell students not to join any groups on Facebook that are designed with the intent to cyber bully.
  • Make sure parents are informed about cyber bullying, your school's discipline policies, and the law. Explain to them that your school's policies are intended to protect their children and that it is important to work together. Let them know they can help their child by openly communicating with them and monitoring their time on the computer.
  • If you suspect a student is upset about a grade or disciplinary action, talk to them. Let them know you understand that they are upset and talk to them about taking ownership for their actions and the consequences that follow. If necessary, refer them to the school counselor. Allow them to verbalize their anger and frustration with you or the counselor before they are tempted to do something rash online.

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