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Extending the principal’s job to cover the world

Submitted by on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 One Comment

I am not in favor of bullying.

I am not against school officials taking swift action against anyone who breaks the rules or laws on their campuses.

I am, however, opposed to making principals in charge of policing the world, including their students’ actions on the World Wide Web even if those actions take place outside of school.

That last is likely to happen under a U.S. Education Department letter that, not only makes principals responsible for harassment they know about (nothing new there) but also tries to ensure that they know about much, much more than they currently would. They also would have to be aware of lunchtime chats and Facebook interactions.

Why single out Facebook, other than the fact that Facebook is acting like an over-eager puppy and fetching “safety” tools that would make it easier for principals to spot online harassment? Facebook is not the only way teens interact socially. While we’re at it, let’s also make principals police message boards, Ning networks and electronic gaming. If a school is going to start monitoring students’ personal lives, there’s no need to stop with one social networking site.

Even worse: Students could be punished if they post comments, pictures or videos that someone, somewhere considers cyberbullying even if the poster harbored no ill will. “It does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents [but] creates a hostile environment,” according to a U.S. Education Department memo quoted in The Daily Caller.

That’s stricter than the federal legal standard of “hostile environment” in the workplace, which requires a pattern of behavior, and we’re applying that tougher standard to kids who in theory aren’t as rational as adults.

It gets even better. According to the article, principals “may” have to require training for “offenders” and their families. And you thought Florida’s bill that would require teachers to assess parents on students’ report cards were intrusive.

The irony is going to be if principals become so tied up in their new Web policing duties that they don’t have time to work on programs and policies that would help prevent bullying before it starts.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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