Handling off campus cyberbullying has been a problem for school officials in the past because of their current policies.
This fall, Marion County public schools hope to erase that issue by updating their school code of conduct. The 2014-2015 code is being updated to include cyberbullying on and off school grounds.
Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, said kids are most vulnerable during their younger years. Often during middle school, self-confidence comes not from succeeding in areas like sports or academics but from students’ peers opinions.
And the result could be more severe than parents might expect.
On Sept. 10, 2013, a Lakeland girl committed suicide after being bullied on social media. She had been bullied for over a year. Peers harassed Rebecca Sedwick, 12, on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Ask.fm, according to The Ledger.
According to The New York Times, Sedwick became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers driven to suicide partly because of online threatening and taunting.
After being terrorized by text messages saying things like “Why are you still alive?” and “Can u die please?” Sedwick took to the Internet to explore the thought of suicide. Sedwick jumped to her death from a platform at an abandoned cement plant, according to The New York Times.
“We’re supposed to allow students to have free speech—it’s the basis for what our country was founded upon. But schools have a legal responsibility to provide a safe school environment,” Hinduja said.
Students are now using the new anonymous Twitter-like app, Yik Yak, to cyberbully one another anonymously.
“Apps like Yik Yak are a hotbed of hate, fear and duress,” Hinduja said.
According to the Huffington Post, Yik Yak creators cooperated with requests from school officials to block access to the app in nearly 85 percent of U.S. high schools after an increase in cyberbullying cases.
The current Marion County Public Schools 2013-2014 Code of Student Conduct addresses cyberbullying incidents taking place on campus only. As the code stands, if students are being harassed outside of school walls, there’s little educators and officials can do to stop it.
The current wording in the code will be updated to meet the requirements of Florida State Statute 1006.147. The statute prohibits harassment through the use of technology away from school grounds if the bullying disrupts students’ education in the classroom.
Mark Vianello, executive director of student services for Marion County Public Schools, said the new policy is definitely welcome. In the past, Marion County schools have struggled with the miscommunication between what happens at school and what happens at home.
“Cyberbullying can be disruptive to a student’s learning. We want to create a safe environment,” Vianello said.
Tiffany Cowie, public information officer for the Florida Department of Education, said by creating better communication through the new and improved code of conduct, parents and educators can be made aware of any arising issues before they become problematic.
“Schools are very often a reflection of the surrounding communities in which they are housed,” Cowie said. “There are so many issues and interactions that occur in the neighborhoods, parks, et cetera, which eventually make their way onto school campuses.”
With social media blurring the lines between what is considered “on campus” or “off campus,” Vianello wants to make it a little less of a gray area.
He said educators want to promote a safe environment students can thrive in because what starts in school often carries over into the infinite World Wide Web.