Cyberbullying

Students today use multiple electronic digital devices which provide multiple means of communicating with each other and multiple avenues of access to the worldwide Internet.  While these devices can and should be used as positive tools in educational and other settings, unfortunately, these devices are also sometimes used in very unsafe and irresponsible ways.  When students resort to bullying and harassment via the Internet and other electronic communication devices, these behaviors are called "cyberbullying." 

Cyberbullying and cyberharassment are now explicitly included in Vermont's statutory definitions of bullying and harassment. When a school can establish a clear link between any off-campus internet activities and on-campus impacts (on a school-wide level or on individual students), schools can and must follow the procedures for investigating and responding to incidents of cyberbullying and cyberharassment as established in their bullying and harassment policies. As of 2010, at least 35 states have adopted some form of legislation to address the phenomena of cyberbullying.  Please see the summary of enacted state statutes available on the National Conference of State Legislatures' website: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/educ/cyberbullying.htm

2009 Legislative Study Committee Report on Harassment, Bullying, and Cyberbullying in Vermont Schools

The Vermont Legislature commissioned this report with the passage of Act No. 174 (5.357). Section 19 of that act established a committee to “study the issue of harassment and bullying in Vermont schools.” Specifically, the committee was directed to examine:
 
(a) (1) the need for further training of educators and school staff to recognize and appropriately respond to the harassment and bullying of students;
(2) the need for legislative enactments to address cyber-bullying;
(3) state laws and regulations regarding harassment and bullying;
(4) school policies and procedures regarding harassment and bullying; and,
(5) any other issues regarding harassment and bullying that the committee deems relevant.
 
(b) The committee shall also study the issue of cyber-bullying of Vermont students and recommend measures to address this growing and destructive phenomenon.
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(e) The report shall include a strategic plan to reduce the prevalence of harassment and bullying in Vermont schools. 

The committee assessed the current state of efforts to address the destructive impact of harassment, bullying and cyberbullying; examined laws in other jurisdictions and carefully reviewed enactments to Vermont statutes to date; and proposed a limited revision of state law (Appendix 3) to provide clear authority to allow educators to address off-campus behaviors that negatively impact the educational opportunities of students who are the targets of harassment, bullying or cyberbullying.

Harassment, Bullying, and Cyberbullying of Students in Vermont Schools 

Embrace Civility in the Digital Age

Nancy Willard is the director of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age and a recognized authority on issues related to the safe and responsible use of the Internet.  Ms. Willard has written several books and numerous articles about cyberbullying.  One of her most recent books, Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Aggression, Threats, and Distress provides a great deal of helpful information about the phenomenon of cyberbullying, including who is involved in this kind of behavior, the additional risky behaviors associated with cyberbullying, legal issues related to cyberbullying, and recommendations for schools about how to address and respond to cyberbullying.  The appendices (see list below) for Ms. Willard's book can be downloaded at the Embrace Civility in the Digital Age website at http://www.embracecivility.org/.

Appendix A: Cyberbullying or Cyberthreat Situation Review Process  
Appendix B: School Actions and Options 
Appendix C: Incident Report and Evaluation Form 
Appendix D: Comprehensive Plan to Address Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats 
Appendix E: Student Needs Assessment Survey 
Appendix F: Staff Needs Assessment Questions 
Appendix G: Request for Waiver of Principles of Effectiveness 
Appendix H: District Internet Use Policy 
Appendix I: Student Internet Use Policy and Agreement 
Appendix J: Student Guide to Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats 
Appendix K: Parent Guide to Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats 
Appendix L: CyberbullyNOT -- Stopping Online Social Aggression 

In addition, Ms. Willard provides additional informational documents on her website related to legislation, case law, and school policies

Cyberbullying Research Center

Another excellent entity with helpful information and resources about cyberbullying is the Cyberbullying Research Center run by Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin Patchin. Sameer is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University and Justin is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Both have given presentations at schools in Vermont. Their website, http://cyberbullying.us/, contains excellent resources for teens, parents, and educators as well as research and publications.

Curriculum/Training Programs

Unfortunately, there are few curricular resources available that address cyberbullying.  However, at least one school system, one organization, and one individual have begun to develop this much-needed kind of resource.  While the Human Rights Commission is not in a position to provide an evaluation of any of these materials, we encourage school staff to review the following resources for possible use in the classroom:

Mike Donlin, Linda Bakken, and Neilia Solberg have written a draft curriculum on cyberbullying for middle school students in the Seattle Public School system.  This curriculum is available for use and comment at the Seattle Public School website: http://district.seattleschools.org/modules/cms/pages.phtml?pageid=216981

The Anit-Defamation League (ADL) has developed lesson plans for elementary, middle, and secondary school students (as well as a list of resources) available on their website: http://www.adl.org/education/curriculum_connections/cyberbullying/  The ADL also provides workshops for students, administrators, and parents about cyberbullying.  See their website for more details: http://www.adl.org/education/cyberbullying/workshops.asp

Susan P. Limber, director of the Center on Youth Participation and Human Rights and professor of psychology at Clemson University, has published two cyberbullying curricula for grades 3-5 and grades 6-12 that are available from Hazelden:  http://www.hazelden.org/OA_HTML/ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?section=null&item=13244, http://www.hazelden.org/OA_HTML/ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?section=null&item=12188.