Suspended for Passing a Note?

Recently, I engaged in a conversation on Twitter about modeling and teaching appropriate use of social media and technology in schools. Quickly our conversation turned to the discussion of punishment for online behaviors. In light of some of the recent public instances of online behaviors being prosecuted in a court of law I raise three questions. Before I address my questions there are two beliefs that I hold to in terms of technology and the use of social media. First, it is something that kids are using regardless of if it is allowed in school or not. Second, schools should be the place where these tools are used and appropriate use taught.

Question one: Are we punishing too harshly for behaviors that would have been considered “kids being kids” ten years ago?

Now I am not supporting the students who created the Attack a Teacher Facebook page. However, if students were overheard joking and making comments like that in the lunchroom would they be prosecuted to the extent the Facebook kids are? Another example would be students texting in class. Some school policies have students lose their phones for the day or eventually are given detentions or even suspensions for repeat offenders. Is texting the note passing of this generation? Anyone ever suspended for passing a note?

Question two: Should schools be responsible for disciplining behaviors that happen outside of schools?

With the amount of cyberbullying that it taking place online, schools are taking a more active role and dealing with these situations. If a student is being bullied online and the results of that are coming into the school, then it certainly should be dealt with in the school. For me though, I wonder where the line is in terms of a school’s role in dealing with such instances. If students got into a fight over the weekend at the park, would they be suspended on Monday at school?

Question three: If we as schools believe that cyberbullying is that serious, then how does that impact our dealing with “traditional” bullying in schools?

In most cases I have read about and dealt with myself, cyberbullying is dealt with often very harshly and with zero tolerance. Students are suspended and in some cases expelled for things they have written or posted online. I take that is one of two ways. Either we are over reacting to bullying being done online, or we are not taking bullying in our schools seriously enough. With the increased cases of cyberbullying, one wonders if bullying is getting worse, or it is just now more public and visible.

Am I out of line here or are the traditional methods of discipline not current with student behaviors? Are we over punishing when technology is involved?


Harold Shaw Jr. said...

I have a feeling that you are correct, leadership does tend to over-react to new discipline issues with technology at a higher level than the "old" problems, simply because it is new and they are unsure of the proper level of punishment.

Cyberbullying is an issue, but when it happens outside of school, not using school property (here in Maine all Junior High students have a MLTI MacBook, so it become a school issue when students do it using their MLTI laptop), it should be handled by the parents, police, but the school should not be involved unless it occurs there.

We have an obligation to teach about Cyberbullying, but we do not have the right/obligation to police all forms of it, when cyberbullying happens outside of school IMHO.


Josh Stumpenhorst said...


Thanks for the the comment. I agree with that if it happens with school equipment it should be handled within the school. I always get hung up on the fact that a lot of the "bullying" done online ends up impacting the learning in school regardless of the device used or where/when it was posted. I beleive it should be dealt with but we need to talk and teach before we cuff and prosecute...right?

Tony Baker said...

I think the problem is things today are more visible because of technology. The threats that were made on Facebook were seen by the kids parents and people outside of the school and that made it a bigger issue then if it was just a couple of kids at a lunch table. I think back to things that happened in school when I was a kid and would hate to have my mother find out because it would have been a bigger issue. This is what we have with Facebook now.

The text messaging thing I agree completely it is no different then passing notes and should be punished the same. I think as teachers we need to figure out a way to take advantage of these cellphones instead of punishing the students.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...


Thanks for your comment. I agree that once you have a very public audience it makes it a much bigger deal. As technology continues to advance at a staggering pace, we as schools need to make sure our policies and procedures reflect that change.