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Should Schools Punish Cyberbullies?

Should cyberbullies be punished by their schools? That's the question posed in this gut-churning article from the New York Times.  A 2010 study done by the Cyberbullying Research Center says that one in five middle-school children have been affected by bullying through phones or computers.

From the article:

Whether resolving such conflicts should be the responsibility of the family, the police or the schools remains an open question, evolving along with definitions of cyberbullying itself.

Nonetheless, administrators who decide they should help their cornered students often face daunting pragmatic and legal constraints.

“I have parents who thank me for getting involved,” said Mike Rafferty, the middle school principal in Old Saybrook, Conn., “and parents who say, ‘It didn’t happen on school property, stay out of my life.’ ”

We understand that the moment you send your kid to school is the moment that your child may become subject to influences (both good and bad) that are beyond your control.  The opacity of the online world can be even more confounding -- do you know who your daughter is talking to online?  Do you know what kind of digital citizen your son is?

Our hearts go out to the children and parents dealing with cyberbullying.  There's nothing more infuriating or painful than seeing your child get hurt.  But what do you think -- is it the school administrator's responsibility to punish bullies, even when their activities have not taken place on campus?  Or should children's rights to free speech be protected, even when that speech does emotional harm to another student? 

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