Monthly Archives: April 2016

Federal district court in Pennsylvania rules that parent stated valid claim for First Amendment retaliation based on superintendent’s alleged threats of legal action for complaining about a student’s bullying

Abstract: A federal district court in Pennsylvania has ruled that a parent has stated a valid claim for First Amendment retaliation based on a school district superintendent allegedly threatening, intimidating and coercing the parent for complaints about school officials’ failure to put an end to bullying of her child and other students by a classmate. It concluded: (1) the parent was engaged in protected activity when she criticized the school district for its unresponsiveness and ineffectiveness in halting the classmate’s assaults; and (2) the superintendent’s emails to the parent would “deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising her First Amendment rights.”

The court rejected the assertion of qualified immunity as to the superintendent. It found that a reasonable school administrator in the superintendent’s position “should have known that the statements amounting to coercion, intimidation and threats of lawsuits or prosecution might chill [the parent’s] criticism of the [school district] and violate her First Amendment rights.” As a result, it concluded, based on the record as developed to date, the superintendent was not entitled to qualified immunity.

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New York state school district settles suit with white student who claimed district failed to protect him from peer harassment/bullying at high school with predominantly minority student body

According to Newsday, Brentwood school district settled a suit filed by Giovanni Micheli, who is white and formerly attended Brentwood High School (BHS), that claimed school officials failed to protect him from bullying by a predominantly minority student body. Micheli’s suit claimed he was forced to leave the BHS’s Sonderling Center during his sophomore year after being mocked as a “white boy” and facing physical threats dating back to sixth grade.

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Predictors of Workplace Bullying and Cyber-Bullying in New Zealand

Background: The negative effects of in-person workplace bullying (WB) are well established. Less is known about cyber-bullying (CB), in which negative behaviours are mediated by technology. Drawing on the conservation of resources theory, the current research examined how individual and organisational factors were related to WB and CB at two time points three months apart. Methods: Data were collected by means of an online self-report survey. Eight hundred and twenty-six respondents (58% female, 42% male) provided data at both time points. Results: One hundred and twenty-three (15%) of participants had been bullied and 23 (2.8%) of participants had been cyber-bullied within the last six months. Women reported more WB, but not more CB, than men. Worse physical health, higher strain, more destructive leadership, more team conflict and less effective organisational strategies were associated with more WB. Managerial employees experienced more CB than non-managerial employees. Poor physical health, less organisational support and less effective organisational strategies were associated with more CB. Conclusion: Rates of CB were lower than those of WB, and very few participants reported experiencing CB without also experiencing WB. Both forms of bullying were associated with poorer work environments, indicating that, where bullying is occurring, the focus should be on organisational systems and processes.

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Schools Are Spying on Students’ Social Media and Informing Police

The social monitoring software known as Snaptrends is being increasingly used by public school districts as a tool to prevent cyberbullying, suicide, and violence.

But how much monitoring of students is too much? And where does a school’s jurisdiction over its students end? And for how long should a student’s social media history follow them around? Few are asking these questions, relying instead on the “safety first” argument.

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California appellate court rules school officials’ search of student’s cell phone was constitutional

Scales of Justice(Editor’s Note:  There are two issues in this case:  (1) whether the search of the student’s pocket and retrieval of the cell phone was lawful, and (2) whether the search of the cell phone contents without a warrant was lawful.  The Court ruled in favor of the school on both counts.  While the pocket search and retrieval of the cell phone appears to have been appropriate and lawful, I question the court’s finding that a warrant was not required to search the contents of the phone.  The court based its ruling on this highly speculative observation by the school officials:  “They were concerned Minor could be using his cell phone to communicate with students who might possess another firearm or weapon the officials did not know about.”  Could be?  Might possess?  That’s a remarkably speculative and tissue-thin basis for a warrantless search.  If “could” and “might” constitute a basis for warrantless searches, there will no longer be a need for warrants for searching student cell phones.  All school authorities will need to do is fabricate a highly speculative theory of what “might” or “could” happen.  This case is in the California appellate courts.  I suspect we’ll hear more about this case, either from the California Supreme Court or federal court.  It clearly requires a closer look.  — Mike Tully)

Abstract: A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, has ruled that school officials did not violate a student’s Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights when they searched his cell phone in connection with an investigation into a firearm found in the school hallway trash bin. The panel concluded, applying the test established in New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985), that the search satisfied constitutional standards for searches conducted in the school environment by school officials.

The appellate panel found that the search of the cell phone was justified from its inception because there was reasonable suspicion that the student was guilty of wrongdoing. It also rejected the student’s contention that school officials, based on Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473 (2014), were required to obtain a warrant before searching the phone since T.L.O. provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant and probable cause requirement.

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Which Feels Better, Forgiveness or Revenge?

Nearly one in four teenagers is bullied every year. Our choice to forgive bullies—as teens or, later, as adults—is intensely personal, not one that any scientific study can answer for us.

A new study by researchers at Macquarie University in Australia provides one consideration (among many) to inform the decision. But the results are mixed: While forgiveness can help us feel better, the researchers conclude, it can also be a stressful process—one reason why choosing to forgive is so difficult.

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School board retreat to include discussion of transgender, anti-bullying policies (WY)

The Albany County School District No. 1 Board of Education is scheduled to discuss a district transgender policy and an updated anti-bullying policy, among other policy items, at a Saturday board retreat open to the public.

The event is scheduled from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday in the lower level of the University of Wyoming Union. In addition to a proposed policy for transgender and gender-nonconforming students and revisions to the district’s harassment, intimidation and bullying policy, the board plans to talk about policy updates involving hiring an attorney, student fees, field trips and booster clubs, Superintendent Jubal Yennie said.

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Can Schools Be Held Liable for Bullying? Suits Face a High Legal Bar (with Comment)

(Editor’s Note:  See Nancy Willard’s comment following this article.  Nancy points out, quite correctly, that the “deliberate indifference” standard essentially creates blanket immunity from liability for failing to address bullying in schools.  Students and their parents would have to demonstrate that school officials would almost have to admit that they want students to be bullied under the standard.  Random acts of discipline are not sufficient to address bullying; the school climate also must be addressed.  The sad consequence is that there is no incentive for schools to examine and correct their climate because the likelihood of successful lawsuits is so remote. — Mike Tully)

Even as a new lawsuit seeks to hold the New York City school district liable for failing to reduce violence and bullying in schools, recent court decisions show how difficult it is for plaintiffs to win on claims related to bullying.

A group of parents and other guardians of students backed by an organization called Families for Excellent Schools is seeking class action status for their suit against the New York City system. The suit in Doe v. New York City Department of Education, filed April 6 in U.S. district court in Manhattan, alleges that the school system is not adequately responding to in-school violence, harassment, and bullying.

The suit says the alleged pattern of “acts and omissions” by the New York City system “reveal a custom and practice of deliberate indifference to in-school violence, creating a culture of indifference to continued, violent assaults against named class plaintiffs and others similarly situated.”

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Why Colorado may require eighth graders who were caught sexting to register as sex offenders

Three Colorado middle and high schools were rocked by a string of recent underage sexting scandals, prompting police investigations. If charged, the teens involved in the case — some as young as eighth grade — could face charges of child pornography, which would require them to register as sex offenders if they were convicted.

The stiff penalties for sexting has sparked a debate in Colorado and other state assemblies over whether misbehaving teens should face the same punishment as child pornographers. But efforts by the Colorado state legislature to lighten the penalties have stalled.

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Internet Safety Education: 10 Questions Parents Should Be Asking

Last week a school near me suffered a social media mishap involving its students. This, an increasingly common byproduct of our day, unfortunately catches many a school by surprise. So I received this call:

“Help! Can you come to our school to give an “Internet Safety” presentation? And can you keep it to under an hour?”


Given the deficit of time and resources at most schools today, this “solution” to a social media or Internet incident is understandably commonplace. But the problem is that if you ask for an “Internet Safety” presentation that’s only an hour long, chances are you’re going to get a talk about the “Big 3”: Cyberbullying, Online Predators, and Sexting. While I suppose addressing these topics in an hour is better than doing nothing at all, I believe it is mistake to teach students about serious issues like these in a silo.

It would be like teaching them how to drive by focusing solely on car accidents.

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