When schools intervene in cyberbullying, they are often on fragile legal ground. This is because the cyberbullying often takes place outside the school and outside of school hours. Schools have very limited authority to react to things that take place off school grounds, outside of school hours and don’t directly impact the school itself.
Many schools taking disciplinary action against the cyberbully have found themselves defending a lawsuit brought by a civil liberties group or irate parent. And the school often loses or is required to settle on onerous terms.
Schools should consider adopting a " special acceptable use policy," signed by the student and parent, giving the school authority over these kinds of activities.
In this way, the school gains some legal clout in getting involved in cyberbullying incidents involving its students.
Even then, it may be a matter of local law and what constitutional decisions exist in the federal circuit and district where the school is situated.
But the schools can get involved without actually disciplining the cyberbully. They can call in the parents and meet with the students and try and resolve things voluntarily. They can run educational and proactive awareness campaigns. They just can’t impose discipline on the student without the parents’ consent.
Special thanks to Parry Aftab, a privacy lawyer specializing in the cybercrime, privacy and cyber-abuse risks, for her input in developing this content.