“It was very nasty swear words that were extremely demeaning to my character,” said Ristow, who now is head of communications for the Broward Teachers Union in Florida.
Ristow held out his hand and said, “Stop.”
A security officer came by and asked if Ristow wanted her to take the boy to the principal’s office. He said no, deciding to resolve the issue directly with the teacher and student instead. He brought both of them together, they discussed how inappropriate the behavior was and told the student he would face a suspension if it happened again.
“It never happened again,” Ristow said.
That was in the late 1980s.
Two decades later, students are equipped with cell phones with video cameras and a plethora of apps that allow them easily to share information among each other and post online.
One of the new ways that students are harassing teachers has become known as “cyberbaiting.” Students irritate a teacher to the point that the teacher breaks down; that reaction then is captured in photos or video to post online. A Norton Online Family Report published last year found that 21 percent of teachers had experienced or knew another teacher who had experienced “cyberbaiting.”
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Then there are cases of students who have created websites and blogs against teachers and administrators.
In South Florida, one student created a Facebook group page called, “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met!” The student encouraged others to “express your feelings of hatred.”
The student, Katherine Evans, took the page down but was suspended for three days and removed from her Advanced Placement classes. She later was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against the principal of the Pembroke Pines Charter High School, arguing that her right to freedom of speech had been violated. She settled for $15,000 to cover her legal fees and her suspension was wiped from her record.
Aftab said such an outcome is not uncommon. Unless the incident occurs on school grounds, during school hours, at a school sponsored event or on school equipment, the district generally does not have jurisdiction to expel or suspend a student, although some courts around the country have ruled differently.
Courts “tend to side more with the students unless you can show dramatic problems,” Aftab said.
Phelps, in her first public comments since the 2007 incident, said while kids make mistakes, it’s the responsibility of adults to turn them into teachable moments.
“We need to redefine and expand our definitions of bullying, particularly techno-spread bullying devoid of personal accountability and disseminated under the guise of free speech,” Phelps said in a written statement June 22.
District administrators in New York plan to pursue disciplinary actions against all four students who taunted Klein, though police say she does not want them to face criminal charges, partially because of the onslaught of public criticism and even threats they’ve endured since the video went online.
A fund started for Klein online has raised more than $500,000.
School safety experts and administrators say they hope the incident will encourage parents to sit down and speak with their children about the damaging effects of all bullying, and that school officials will reinforce bullying prevention, not just among students, but also aimed at teachers and adults.
“The schools can have consequences,” Trump said, pointing to counseling and disciplinary action. The bigger question, he said, is why a student would treat a bus monitor in a way they would not treat their own grandmother. “And that goes far beyond what a school can deal with.”
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