Public schools, Facebook, and the FCC

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on May 7, 2012

Our colleague Mike Donlin and I have been talking out some issues related to public education and teen technology use. He has recently pointed out that there are certain points that the FCC would like schools to know as it relates to their intersection with and use of social networking sites. Specifically, schools need to be very familiar with the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, and that it:


1. Adds statutory language to existing FCC rules for implementing the Children’s Internet Protection Act


2. Has an impact on eRate compliance


3. Requires that school districts’ board policies provide for the education of minors regarding appropriate online behavior including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms, and regarding cyberbullying awareness and response


4. This requirement is in addition to existing Children’s Internet Protection Act requirements (requiring blocks/filters, and education of staff, students, parents, etc.)


Also, in addition to policy language, it is important to note that the FCC also specifically mentions Facebook and MySpace, as well as addressing other social networking sites. The FCC finds that:


1. Individual pages on Facebook or MySpace might be potentially harmful to minors, but


2. these sites are not “harmful to minors”, per se, and


3. do not fall into a category of websites which must be blocked.


4. Further noting recent work by the Department of Education, the FCC and the DOE suggest that “social networking websites have the potential to support student learning…” (FCC 11-125 Report and Order, p.8)


So, what are the implications of all of this?


1. By July 1, 2012, School Boards will have to create or update current Internet Use policies to include wording that they are teaching Internet safety


2. Districts will have to decide how, who and with what they will implement this new requirement


3. With the comments on Facebook and other social networking sites, and with the inclusion of social networking within required Board policy language, education and training around both appropriate and pedagogical uses of social networking resources will be critical


4. Districts and schools will need background and training on issues, materials, approaches, resources


5. Cyberbullying awareness and response will need to be included within ongoing harassment, intimidation and bullying training and program implementation


6. As the education of minors about appropriate online behavior, digital citizenship, cyberbullying, etc., covers a wide range of issues and topics, it will be very important for prevention-intervention, school safety, counseling, educational technology and content specialists to work closely to create as effective and all-encompassing digital safety education program as possible


So, the major question are as follows: Is your district positioned to address all of these requirements? How specifically are you making this happen? What will you use to educate staff and students? What protocols are currently in place as it relates to prevention, investigation, and response? Are they ideal? I know that many states just wrapped up standardized testing, and are just trying to make it through the end of the school year. These matters, though, will have to be addressed before administrators take a break for the summer.

Why Confiscating Student Cell Phones Might Be a Bad Idea

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on September 7, 2011

We’ve talked in great detail about students bringing their personal electronic devices at school and the complications that may result.  We have also covered standards for searching these devices, and have provided a cell phone search checklist which may help administrators in these situations. In keeping with these discussions, I wanted to take some time to focus in on seizure – or confiscation – of these devices while bracketing the thorny subject of search for a while.  Specifically, I want to be clear and state that even with a suspected or actual policy violation by a student, it may not be in your school’s best interests to seize that student’s device.


I recently chatted this out with Mark Trachtenbroit, Assistant Principal at Wheeler High School in Georgia.  He remarked that his school used to take students’ personal devices when they were displayed or used between the morning bell and the afternoon bell because that contravened the formal rules their school had in place. However, it became a huge chore, leading to many of the complications I wrote about last week and the huge hassle of trying to warehouse, label, and manage all of the confiscated devices (and deal with angry parents who demanded their kid’s device be returned).


As such, the school decided that they would no longer confiscate phones, but just apply moderate penalties to students who broke the rules.  For instance, the first violation would be a stern verbal warning.  The second violation would lead to Saturday school.  The third violation would lead to In-School Suspension.  This tended to work in that it reduced the number of negative outcomes but seemed to be a less-than-ideal solution.  Administrators felt they were, as they say, cutting off their nose to spite their face because punishing teens in this way kept them out of the classroom where they would be learning.  This directly ties into the No Child Left Behind Act and the Adequate Yearly Progress measurement that allows our US Department of Education to determine how each school and school district is doing when it comes to properly educating our students (to do well academically on standardized tests) and meeting annual targets for reading, math, and graduation.  The consequences for failing to meet these goals and targets are simply not worth risking, and it just doesn’t make sense to sternly discipline kids in the 21st Century from being kids in the 21st century.  That is, the big-picture costs of punishing teens for being tethered to their technology is not worth potentially compromising the achievement of federally-mandated requirements.


This is an extremely important point, and one that many people do not seem to understand.


Perhaps the bottom line is that you cannot keep or deter all students from using their phones at school.  It is going to happen.  You can therefore decide to be prohibitive or permissive.  You can officially ban them from campuses, or allow them during certain times (or all times).


Whatever you do, though, you will have to figure out a way to get students, educators, and parents on board, and probably approach it in a way that represents the climate you are trying to build and maintain.  This climate should be all about encouraging the positive and responsible use of technology, and dissuading its misuse and abuse.  We’ll be giving you specific advice to make this happen in weeks ahead.

Sexting Policies in Schools

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on October 22, 2010

I have been thinking a lot recently about formal policies related to sexting that all middle schools and high schools should have enacted by now. However, I am finding that many districts have not yet detailed in their discipline codes exactly what it is, how it will be investigated, who will be involved, and what will happen to those who participate. This is unfortunate because experience shows us that when formal policies and procedures have not kept pace with the rapid changes of technology and their use by kids and teens, school administrators struggle when attempting to correct wrongful behavior.


We have to make sure that clear guidance and direction is available when a sexting case comes to the attention of school administrators. Moreover, in order to ensure compliance with response protocols and to avoid legal pitfalls, administrators have to be proactive. They must specifically review and improve current policies and procedures before a situation arises, develop new policies in concert with technology specialists and law enforcement agencies, and communicate such policies to educators, staff, and students at their school.


In considering the elements that should make up a comprehensive and tight sexting policy, we have come up with the following advice:


It should specifically define that sexting primarily involves the sending and receiving of naked or semi-naked photos or videos via cell phone.


It should highlight that such images and videos often constitute child pornography, and that creating them, possessing them, or transmitting them is a felony offense subject to criminal prosecution. That is, students who send a naked or semi-naked picture of themselves to others are subject to punishment. In addition, students who disseminate naked or semi-naked images of other students are also subject to punishment. Finally, students who receive a naked or semi-naked image of another student needs to report the incident to a counselor or principal immediately.


It should detail who all will be involved in the investigation and response (e.g., administrators, law enforcement, the parents of all students involved).


It should state that in many cases, student cell phones can be searched by administrators if they have reasonable suspicion that a student has been involved in the behavior – and, of course, for any other suspected school policy violation directly related to the use or contents of the device. That said, there are some cases where teachers and administrators in public schools are viewed as agents of government – especially since the behavior in question could be a felony. Therefore, the standard of probable cause would apply. (This is a very contentious topic which we will flesh out in the future.)


It should articulate a range of punishments that will result for those who engage in sexting.


It should assert increased penalties for any bullying, blackmail, extortion, or threats that stem from, or are related to, sexting incidents.


It should include a clause which provides discretion to administrators and school law enforcement who deal with these cases, especially since sexting appears to occur along a continuum ranging from “stupid teen behavior,” to problematic girlfriend/boyfriend relationships, to sexting involving intentional exploitation, to intentional self-exploitation – which involves youth who brazenly and willingly flaunt and advertise themselves online in a sexual manner (thanks to Nancy Willard for pointing this out).


Please let me know if you think we are missing anything, or if you have any other thoughts towards this end based on your experience. We want to be clear that this is a work in progress, both because the research concerning sexting is still emerging and because the law is not well established. Also know that we are not giving legal advice in this blog, and that educators should always consult their school attorneys for guidance to ensure these cases are handled appropriately.

Schools Have a Responsibility to Proactively Stop Bullying

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on March 12, 2010

A federal jury recently ordered the Hudson Area School District (Michigan) to pay $800,000 in damages to a student who endured years of emotional, physical, and sexual bullying.  Dane Patterson was in middle school when the bullying began as simple name calling and verbal harassment.  It escalated in high school and included being pushed into lockers and at least one incident in 10th grade where he was sexually harassed – which involved “a naked student rubbing against him” in a locker room.

Most states require their schools to have an anti-bullying policy, and Hudson Schools did.  On some occasions when bullying was reported to the school and the perpetrators could be identified, they were punished.  In other cases teachers who witnessed bullying or who were made aware of it failed to follow through with involving school administration.  And according to court records, in one case a geography teacher actually contributed to the problem by making fun of Patterson in front of the entire class by saying: “How does it feel to be hit by a girl?” after he was slapped by a female student when he attempted to stop her from bullying a classmate.  This is almost unbelievable.

This case is a clear message to schools that inaction, or even a simple unwise reaction, is not enough when it comes to dealing with bullies.  Districts need to be proactive in preventing bullying from getting out of control.  It is one thing to have a policy in place prohibiting bullying.  It is so much important for schools to actively enforce it and take additional steps to foster a positive climate in which bullying of all kinds is not tolerated (by staff or students).  Staff need to educate students about appropriate behaviors and take action (informal or formal) against bullies.  Adults who argue that bullying is a normal part of growing up (“kids will be kids”) are contributing to the problem. Students, too, have a role when they see bullying occurring.  Standing by and watching it occur without doing anything is also contributing to a culture where bullying is considered normative behavior and therefore passively condoned and tolerated.  If you are a student and see someone being bullied, please tell an adult in the school that you trust will take appropriate actions (without making things worse for you or the target).  Together, students and staff can work together to create and maintain a positive learning environment free from harassment and abuse.

Quick Poll: Do You Think Schools Should be Able to Discipline Students for Hurtful Facebook Pages?

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on February 25, 2010

We’ve had quite a bit of feedback regarding our recent post that discussed whether or not schools can discipline students for creating a Facebook page that is critical of, or harassing toward, a staff member.  The courts have given their perspective on a few different cases, but I thought I would post this simple poll for readers to weigh in themselves regarding their personal beliefs about what should or should not be allowed. Feel free to add the justification for your answer as a comment.

(if you don’t see a poll below, please try again later…we have been having trouble with the polling software)

Status update comment on Facebook gets student suspended for cyberbullying

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on October 23, 2009

Just wanted to point out this new article sharing the story of a high-schooler who responded to a friend’s status update on Facebook, and consequently received a ridiculous sanction from his school for it.  He basically stated “you’re not going to bust a grape” – indicating to his friend (who posted about fighting another girl at school) that it was just a joke, and that she wasn’t actually going to *do* anything despite her threatening words.  The student – who is in Honors classes and who participated in a summer internship at USC this year – was then suspended for the rest of the school year, thereby jeopardizing his graduation date and future scholastic ambitions.

I believe that the school will likely be civilly sued by the family of the boy for overstepping their disciplinary bounds.  I believe they should have taken the time to calmly ascertain what was meant by the statement made on Facebook, and attempted to address it informally rather than through suspension.  This may be a case of administrators hoping to send a powerful message to the rest of the student body, but grossly overreacting and doling out a punishment incommensurate with the nature and context of the offense.

Formal bans on sexting in school districts

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on September 23, 2009

My colleagues and I have been discussing the phenomenon of sexting in great detail recently, in light of the actions of two Texas school districts.  Before the beginning of this new school year, the Houston Independent school district (one of the largest in the nation) and the Dallas-Fort Worth school district banned sending sexually-explicit photos or messages over cell phones.  Some argue that this action is paternalistic, outdated, tyrannical, and even possibly unconstitutional.  Others applaud the decision, which reflects that administrators are finally treating this matter seriously.

Personally, I’m glad that the district is focusing in on the problem, but I’m not sure if this policy will actually be useful as students tend not to be deterred by heavy-handed rule-making.  I also don’t want its presence to take the place of purposed educational efforts to teach students about the responsible use of technology.  This sometimes happens when laws or policies are implemented as a way of quickly “dealing” with an issue without understanding its fundamental causes.

When giving presentations, I talk a lot about the need to change prevailing social norms regarding what is acceptable and unacceptable in the minds of youth.  I feel that our prevention and response efforts are going to be less than ideal and fruitful if we cannot effectively counter what society and the media are hammering into the minds of adolescents.  If the dominant message our kids are hearing is that sex and sexuality lead to popularity and celebrity status with very little (if any) public or personal fallout, youth will continue to push the proverbial envelope and the line between right and wrong in this area will be increasingly obscured.  Maybe that’s fine – maybe that’s part of our inevitable march forward into modernity.  But maybe it portends more problems than we’re going to be able to handle.