School Safety and Cyberbullying
On December 18, 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety, led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, released the final report to help educate school officials and the K-12 community about possible solutions in order to keep our children safe while learning at school. It released recommendations tied to the physical safety of school grounds, providing ongoing training to staff and students, as well as issues surrounding social media and cyberbullying.
I want to focus on the cyberbullying prevention suggestions and to add my thoughts to this debate. The report states that “districts and schools approach cyberbullying in a variety of ways, including: implementing strategies to improve school climate using feedback gathered from school climate surveys that measure perceptions about bullying and cyberbullying; providing direct programming for social and emotional learning or digital citizenship; providing students access to mental health services; and updating discipline policies to include cyberbullying.” The report further states that the appropriate federal agencies should assist school districts to reduce cyberbullying.
Dr. Sameer Hinduja, Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, and Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, testified at a June 21, 2018 Commission meeting that cyberbullying is not a technology issue, but rather a social issue. I understand what he was trying to say, but I believe that misses the point and that digital literacy and digital citizenship are almost an afterthought in our K-12 education system. While there are some resources tied to digital citizenship at my children’s school district webpage somewhere, I know they have not had any dedicated school time to better learn about these important societal and technological issues. I am fortunate that my three boys have been part of the Boy Scouts since first grade and each year they need to earn a cyber-chip merit badge and go through online training about cyber safety and security, and the content is geared toward their grade level.
As I was reading through the section on cyberbullying I was disappointed that the report did not mention that every school district that receives E-rate funds to support their Internet access is actually required to be compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA requires that every district, library or school must have an Internet Safety Policy and one of the core components is that they need to educate their students about cyberbullying. The Commission missed an opportunity to remind school officials that cyberbullying is not just something they should maybe think about addressing, but an actual regulation that school districts must comply with.
As I mentioned above, the report has a recommendation that appropriate federal agencies need to step up to help districts solve this issue. However, the report neglected to mention which federal agencies. The U.S. Department of Education is the obvious agency, but what other agencies is the report talking about? I have read the entire report and spent more time focusing on the cyberbullying aspect, as that has a direct correlation to compliance with the E-rate program. Because of the lack of specificity that I have found, unfortunately, I do not believe the report will have the full intended effect of providing the detailed recommendations that are truly necessary to keep our children safe.
The full Commission report can be viewed here.