On January 1st of 2015, a new state law took effect in Illinois giving school district officials broader power to investigate accusations of bullying – including cyberbullying – even if the activity took place outside administrative jurisdiction. After word spread of the bill’s passing, some media outlets reported, somewhat mistakenly, that school officials now had the right to order students to surrender social media passwords.
According to a report by The Huffington Post, however, the wording actually says, “that if cyberbullying is reported to the school, school administrators can investigate the claim even if the cyberbullying occurred outside of school hours and buildings.”
The report goes on to explain that a bill which took effect in January of 2014 made it unlawful for school officials to force parents or students to hand over online passwords. Brian Schwartz, general counsel for the Illinois Principals Association, told The Huffington Post, “I think there’s some misinformation about [the new bill], because that’s been on the books for over a year.”
There is no question that schools need to do more to curtail bullying. But, while all the attention has focused these new laws and free speech infringement, the media, and pretty much everyone else, missed the more important issue. Where are the parents in all of this?
School administrators have always been charged with maintaining discipline within the confines of their educational responsibility. However, it was never intended for educators to police kids after school hours or away from district property. They have neither the manpower nor the training to do so.
Worse still, civil liberties organizations have managed to tie the hands of educators to the point that, eventually, even detention will be a violation of a student’s civil rights. Regardless, the big question remains, when did parents abdicate the responsibility of actually “parenting” to school administrators?
Without question, this is a complicated issue, but the long and short of it is this: maintaining discipline after hours should be up to parents. If people are going to have children, they should be prepared to educate them in ways of civilized behavior and establish consequences if those rules are violated.
If a child is threatening or causing harm to others outside of school, it should be dealt with by parents and local police or other authorities – not the district administration. To repeat, they have neither the manpower nor the training for this kind of work.
Expanded powers like those granted in Illinois might seem like a good idea, but granting investigative overreach to teachers and administrative bureaucrats just seems, on every level, like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Imagine if a dangerous bully skipped through some loophole in the legal system simply because the investigation was handled by amateurs?
Such legislation is a knee-jerk reaction during midterm election season which will result in skyrocketing education costs and, in all likelihood, increased legal expenses for school districts. There is no reason school administrators should have such broad-reaching power outside of their areas of responsibility. Once again, it begs the question, where are the parents?
Instead of focusing on it after the fact, it might be a good idea for more parents to take a look at the problem and take responsibility for the behavior of their children before such events occur. Many parents overlook bullying as normal, growing pains. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, bullying consists of any and all of the following: fighting, threatening, name-calling, teasing, or excluding someone repeatedly and over time, an imbalance of power (such as size or popularity), physical, social, and emotional harm, or hurting another person to get something. Cyberbullying includes similar issues, but inflicted over social media.
Some parents might ignore some of this behavior as “just kids being kids,” but it’s not. Kids who bully won’t come out and say so and neither will their victims. Bullying is a form of assault and it’s already illegal. New laws and stricter schools are not the solution. It’s up to parents to be more involved and help prevent this terrible problem.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer and distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications. More at gerydeer.com.