Fed instructs teachers to Facebook creep students <http://dailycaller.com/2011/03/16/fed-instructs-teachers-to-facebook-creep-students/>
Education Department officials are threatening school principals with lawsuits if they fail to monitor and curb students’ lunchtime chat and evening Facebook time for expressing ideas and words that are deemed by Washington special-interest groups to be harassment of some students.
There has only been muted opposition to this far-reaching policy among the professionals and advocates in the education sector, most of whom are heavily reliant on funding and support from top-level education officials. The normally government-averse tech-sector is also playing along, and on Mar. 11, Facebook declared that it was “thrilled” to work with White House officials to foster government oversight of teens’ online activities.
The only formal opposition has come from the National School Board Association, which declined to be interviewed by The DC.
The agency’s threats, which are delivered in a so-called “Dear Colleague” letter,” have the support of White House officials, including President Barack Obama, who held a Mar. 10 White House meeting to promote the initiative as a federal “anti-bullying” policy.
The letter says federal officials have reinterpreted the civil-rights laws that require school principals to curb physical bullying, as well as racist and sexist speech, that take place within school boundaries. Under the new interpretation, principals and their schools are legally liable if they fail to curb “harassment” of students, even if it takes place outside the school, on Facebook or in private conversation among a few youths.
“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.
Following the discovery of “harassment,” officials may have to require mandatory training of students and their families, according to the Ali letter. “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 developing new features that will make it harder for principals to miss episodes of online “harassment,” and so will increase the likelihood of government action against the teenage users of Facebook and other social-media. “We’re adding a unique feature, developed with safety experts, that lets people also report content to someone in their support system (like a parent or teacher) who may be able to address the issue more directly,’ Facebook declared Mar. 11. “It is our hope that features like this will help not only remove the offensive content but also help people get to the root of the problem,” the company statement declared.
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.
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. The government has not responded to the NSBA letter.
The leading advocate for the expanded rules is Kevin Jennings, who heads the Education Department’s Office <http://dailycaller.com/2011/03/16/fed-instructs-teachers-to-facebook-creep-students/2/> of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Jennings founded the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network advocacy group, and raised at least $100,000 for the Obama campaign in 2008, according to Public Citizen, a left-of-center advocacy group. In an September 2010 interview on the government’s StopBullying.gov website, Jennings said that “in a truly safe school … students feel like they belong, they are valued, they feel physically and emotionally safe.”
Ken Trump, a Cleveland-based school-safety <http://dailycaller.com/2011/03/16/fed-instructs-teachers-to-facebook-creep-students/2/> consultant, says the administration is so determined to focus on gay and lesbian teens that it is asking Congress for $365 million to conduct bullying-related school surveys in 2012. In 2011, the administration ended a program that gave roughly $300 million per year to states to counter physical violence and drug-abuse in schools.
The primary purpose behind the administration’s initiative is to “create a social and political climate where it is impossible to express conservative moral beliefs” about sexuality, even when research data shows those beliefs help many people live prosperous and happy lives, said Laurie Higgins, the school-advocacy chief of three-person Illinois Family Institute, in Carol Stream, Ill. Everyday experience and careful research show that children <http://dailycaller.com/2011/03/16/fed-instructs-teachers-to-facebook-creep-students/2/> are most likely to prosper when they’re raised by their parents, not by school officials and D.C.-based special-interests, she said.
Children do not have any right to bully other kids, gay or straight, to hurt them, taunt or tease them, but they do have a right to speak their minds, and champion their beliefs, said Higgins. Kids learn to treat each other with respect, especially when they and their peers have the ability to hold each other responsible for good, bad or trivial actions, she said.
One of the better things about Facebook <http://dailycaller.com/2011/03/16/fed-instructs-teachers-to-facebook-creep-students/2/> , said Higgins, is that it promotes responsible behavior by requiring teens to identify themselves with their real names and pictures. But the kids’ ability to mature into adults will be stymied if the federal government, special-interests and school officials intervene in kids’ conversations about girls and boys, sports and fashion, studies and music, whenever they offer judgements or facts that are disliked by influential political advocates, such as Jennings’ GLSEN, Higgins said. “Kids will be inhibited if they fear their moral reasoning will be seen by others as criminal,” she said.
GLSEN’s advocates strongly support the federal initiative. The Department’s October “guidelines are thorough, comprehensive and list examples in current law to support each provision…. When it comes to bias-based bullying in particular, we have to be willing to name the problem if we want to protect all of our students,” said a Dec. 21 GLSEN statement. Almost 90 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender <http://dailycaller.com/2011/03/16/fed-instructs-teachers-to-facebook-creep-students/2/> students “experienced harassment in the past year because of their sexual orientation,” according to a 2009 GLSEN survey of more than 7,000 students, said the statement.
Advocates for gays and lesbians say teens who identify as gay or lesbian are four times as likely as normal kids to kill themselves, and they cite multiple examples of teen-suicides following anti-gay statements or physical violence.
The anti-harassment legislation is frequently supported by the ACLU and its state affiliates, partly because ACLU officials also support the goal of government-supported diversity. In contrast, the libertarian Foundation for Individual Rights In Education, or FIRE, opposes anti-harassment bills as threats to free-speech. On Feb. 15, its website presented arguments against a pending bullying-related bill in Congress, dubbed the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. The draft act “is redundant, it replaces the clear definition of harassment with a vague, speech-restrictive definition that conflicts with Supreme Court precedent, and it treats adult college students like children who need special laws,” said FIRE’s statement.
This month, Higgins’ side won an expensive free-speech victory when a federal appeals court in Chicago upheld a token award of $25 dollars each to two students who were punished by school officials in Naperville, Ill., for wearing unapproved t-shirts following a school event that was intended to promote acceptance of homosexuality. The “Day of Silence” event at the school was organized by GLSEN. The two students’ shirts carried the message “Be Happy, Not Gay,” and were worn on a day declared to be a “Day of Truth,” which was organized by a national conservative group that opposes GLSEN’s goals.
“[A] school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality,” said the appeal court’s decision, authored by Judge Richard Posner. “The school argued (and still argues) that banning ‘Be Happy, Not Gay’ was just a matter of protecting the ‘rights’ of the students against whom derogatory comments are directed. But people in our society do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or even their way of life,” said the ruling.
President and First Lady Call For a United Effort to Address Bullying, March 10, 2011
· Estimates are that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year - upwards of 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues. If we fail to address bullying we put ourselves at a disadvantage for increasing academic achievement and making sure all of our students are college and career ready.
· “If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” said President Obama. “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it’s not something we have to accept. As parents and students; teachers and communities, we can take steps that will help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe.”
· "As parents, this issue really hits home for us. It breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, on the playground, or even online," First Lady Michelle Obama said. "I hope that all of you – and everyone watching online – will walk away from this conference with new ideas and solutions that you can take back to your own schools and communities."
Public-Private Partnerships, Commitments and Activities
· Formspring and Massachusetts Institute of Technology
· MTV Networks: “A THIN LINE”
· SurveyMonkey: www.surveymonkey.com/bullying <http://www.surveymonkey.com/bullying>
· National Education Association: “Bully-Free: It Starts with Me.”
· American Federation of Teachers: “See a Bully, Stop a Bully, Make a Difference”
· National PTA: “Connect for Respect”
· National Association of Student Councils: “Raising Student Voice and Participation Bullying Challenge”
· National School Boards Association: “Students on Board for Bullying Prevention”
Facebook will unveil two new safety features in the coming weeks: a revamped multimedia Safety Center to incorporate multimedia, external resources from renowned experts, and downloadable information for teens. Additionally, they will create a new “Social Reporting” system to enable people to report content that violates Facebook policies so that it can be removed as soon as possible, while notifying parents or teachers of the content so that the reasons for its posting can be addressed.
Office of Civil Rights, Oct. 26, 2010
What are a school’s obligations under these anti‐discrimination statutes?
· Once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible student‐on‐student harassment, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.
· If harassment has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment, and prevent its recurrence. These duties are a school’s responsibility even if the misconduct also is covered by an anti‐bullying policy and regardless of whether the student makes a complaint, asks the school to take action, or identifies the harassment as a form of discrimination
“Dear Colleague” letter, Oct 26, 2010 from Office of Civil Rights Assistant Secretary
· Indeed, many schools have adopted anti‐bullying policies that go beyond prohibiting bullying on the basis of traits expressly protected by the federal civil rights laws enforced by OCR—race, color, national origin, sex, and disability—to include such bases as sexual orientation and religion. While this letter concerns your legal obligations under the laws enforced by OCR, other federal, state, and local laws impose additional obligations on schools. And, of course, even when bullying or harassment is not a civil rights violation, schools should still seek to prevent it in order to protect students from the physical and emotional harms that it may cause
· “A school is responsible for addressing harassment incidents about which it knows or reasonably 9should have known. In some situations, harassment may be in plain sight, widespread, or well‐known to students and staff, such as harassment occurring in hallways, during academic or physical education classes, during extracurricular activities, at recess, on a school bus, or through graffiti in public areas. In these cases, the obvious signs of the harassment are sufficient to put the school on notice. In other situations, the school may become aware of misconduct, triggering an investigation that could lead to the discovery of additional incidents that, taken together, may constitute a hostile environment. In all cases, schools should have well‐publicized policies prohibiting harassment and procedures for reporting and resolving 10complaints that will alert the school to incidents of harassment.
· When responding to harassment, a school must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. The specific steps in a school’s investigation will vary depending upon the nature of the allegations, the source of the complaint, the age of the student or students involved, the size and administrative structure of the school, and other factors. In all cases, however, the inquiry should be prompt, thorough, and impartial.
· If an investigation reveals that discriminatory harassment has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring. These duties are a school’s responsibility even if the misconduct also is covered by an anti‐bullying policy, and regardless of whether a student has complained, asked the school to take action, or identified the harassment as a form of discrimination.
· In addition, depending on the extent of the harassment, 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.
WHAT SCHOOLS CAN DO ((from the government’s stopbullying.gov website))
What To Do When it Starts
Investigate reports of cyberbullying immediately. If cyberbullying occurs on-campus or through the school district’s internet system, you are obligated to take action. If the cyberbullying occurs off-campus, you can still help. Remember even cyberbullying that occurs off-campus can affect how students behave and relate to each other at school.
· Closely monitor the behavior of the students involved at school for all forms of bullying.
· Investigate to see if those who are cyberbullied need support from a school counselor or school-based health professional.
· Notify parents of students involved in cyberbullying.
· Talk with all students about the negative effects of cyberbullying
National School Board Association, Dec. 13, 2010
NSBA General Counsel asks ED to reconsider anti-bullying regs
· Our fear is that, absent clarification, the department’s expansive reading of the law … will invite misguided litigation that needlessly drains precious school resources and creates adversarial school climates that distract schools from their educational missions,” NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negron Jr. wrote.
· The enforcement position taken in the Education Department’s letter differs from the legal precedent set in a 1999 case, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled that schools could be held liable under Title IX for student-on-student harassment when the school was aware of the situation but did not take action to stop it. That ruling significantly increased schools’ obligations to recognize and respond to harassment, Negron says.
· However, the Education Department’s enforcement position as stated in the guidance would further broaden the standard set by the Davis ruling by advising that school officials would be responsible if they “reasonably should have known” about a situation. It also would broaden Davis’s cumulative standard that harassment must be “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” to allow any of the three factors to qualify.
· NSBA is urging the Education Department to recognize that local school officials would have a better understanding of an individual situation, and should not be second-guessed by courts.
“Dear Colleagues” Letter from Dept. of Ed. Secretary Arne Duncan, Dec. 16, 2010
· Recent guidance includes a Dear Colleague Letter issued on October 26 by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that explains how, under certain circumstances, bullying may trigger legal responsibilities for schools under the civil rights laws enforced by OCR and the Department of Justice that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion.1 <http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/101215.html#_ftn1> Schools must protect students from bullying and harassment on these bases, in addition to any obligations under state and local law.
· Forty-five states have already passed laws addressing bullying or harassment in school. Ultimately State officials will determine whether new or revised legislation and policies should be introduced to update, improve, or add bullying prevention provisions.