From Media Matters for America -- March 16, 2011:
Right Wing Gins Up Hysteria Over Obama's Initiative To Curb Bullying
Right-wing media figures are demagoguing an Obama Administration initiative to combat bullying and harassment, likening it to "big brother" and "Facebook stalking" of students. In fact, the initiative is an effort to assist schools and parents in preventing and dealing with bullying and harassment, which is estimated to affect as many as 13 million students each year.
Media Conservatives Freak Out, Stoke Fears Of "Big Brother" To Vilify Anti-Bullying Initiative
The Daily Caller: "Fed Instructs Teachers To Facebook Creep Students." The Daily Caller reported on an Obama Administration initiative to combat bullying and harassment in schools, which was laid out in a letter from the Department of Education. From the article, headlined "Fed instructs teachers to Facebook creep students":
Education Department officials are threatening school principals with lawsuits if they fail to monitor and curb students' lunchtime chat and evening Facebook time for expressing ideas and words that are deemed by Washington special-interest groups to be harassment of some students.
There has only been muted opposition to this far-reaching policy among the professionals and advocates in the education sector, most of whom are heavily reliant on funding and support from top-level education officials. The normally government-averse tech-sector is also playing along, and on Mar. 11, Facebook declared that it was "thrilled" to work with White House officials to foster government oversight of teens' online activities.
The only formal opposition has come from the National School Board Association, which declined to be interviewed by The DC.
The agency's threats, which are delivered in a so-called "Dear Colleague" letter," have the support of White House officials, including President Barack Obama, who held a Mar. 10 White House meeting to promote the initiative as a federal "anti-bullying" policy.
The department's re-interpretation expands legal risks for schools beyond those set by the Supreme Court in a 1999 decision, said a Dec. 7 NSBA statement. The court decision, which interprets several federal laws, says schools are liable for harassment that school officials know about and that "effectively bars" a student's access to an educational benefit.
Following the discovery of "harassment," officials may have to require mandatory training of students and their families, according to the Ali letter. "The school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond... [and] provide additional services to the student who was harassed in order to address the effects of the harassment," said the letter.
Facebook is developing new features that will make it harder for principals to miss episodes of online "harassment," and so will increase the likelihood of government action against the teenage users of Facebook and other social-media. "We're adding a unique feature, developed with safety experts, that lets people also report content to someone in their support system (like a parent or teacher) who may be able to address the issue more directly,' Facebook declared Mar. 11. "It is our hope that features like this will help not only remove the offensive content but also help people get to the root of the problem," the company statement declared.
The remedies being pushed by administration officials will also violate students' and families' privacy rights, disregard student's constitutional free-speech rights, spur expensive lawsuits against cash-strapped schools, and constrict school official' ability to flexibly use their own anti-bullying policies to manage routine and unique issues, said the NSBA letter. [Daily Caller, 3/16/11]
Beck Responds To Anti-Bullying Initiative: "Get Off My Land." On his radio show, Glenn Beck said:
The DOE is also saying that when the Principal reports it, then the bureaucrats will decide whether or not the student, the student and the parents, or the community need to go through some sort of class so the harassment or the sexual harassment or the racist comments can stop.
Let me tell you something - you monitor and you have a principal come to my child and say, "We saw what you wrote on the internet at 8:52 from your bedroom last night, don't you dare come to my kids, you come to me, and I will deal with it. Don't you dare come to my children when they are not in school and tell them jack. Don't you dare come to me and tell me I need some sort of sensitivity training because my kid did something, and may I just point out where my property line is. If you dare try to come to my house and tell me that I have to go to a sensitivity training class because someone else's kid wrote something else in their off time on Facebook that now the White House is monitoring, get off my land. Never. Never. Can you imagine? [Premiere Radio Networks, The Glenn Beck Program, 3/16/11]
The Blaze: "Big Brother? Feds Order Schools to Monitor Kids Facebook Posts & Lunchtime Chatter." Glenn Beck's website, The Blaze, blasted the story with the following headline:]
America Live: Principals Will Be "Forced" To Monitor Students' Facebook Accounts.
But The Department Of Education Is Just Assisting Schools And Parents In Preventing And Dealing With Bullying And Harassment
FACT: Bullying Affects As Many 13 Million Students Every Year. From a March 10 White House Press Release:
Every day, thousands of children, teens, and young adults around the country are bullied. Estimates are that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year - upwards of 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues. If we fail to address bullying we put ourselves at a disadvantage for increasing academic achievement and making sure all of our students are college and career ready. [WhiteHouse.gov, 3/10/11]
FACT: The DOE's Letter Simply Lays Out Possible "Prompt And Effective Steps Reasonably Calculated To End Harassment" After It Has Already Occurred. From the DOE's Office for Civil Rights Dear Colleague letter on October 26, 2010:
When responding to harassment, a school must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. The specific steps in a school's investigation will vary depending upon nature of the allegations, the source of the complaint, the age of the student or students involved, the size and administrative structure of the school, and other factors. In all cases, however, the inquiry should be prompt, thorough, and impartial.
If an investigation reveals discriminatory harassment has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring. These duties are a school's responsibility even if the misconduct also is covered by an anti-bullying policy, and regardless of whether a student has complained, asked the school to take action, or identified the harassment as a form of discrimination.
Appropriate steps to end harassment may include separating the accused harasser and the target, providing counseling for the target and/or harasser, or taking disciplinary action against the harasser. These steps should not penalize the student who was harassed. For example, any separation of the target from an alleged harasser should be designed to minimize the burden on the target's educational program (e.g., not requiring the target to change his or her class schedule).
In addition, depending on the extent of the harassment, the school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond. A school also may be required to provide additional services to the student who was harassed in odrer to address the effects of the harassment, particularly if the school initially delays in responding or responds inappropriately or inadequately to information about harassment. An effective response also may need to include the issuance of new polices against harassment and new procedures by which students, parents, and employees may report allegations of harassment (or wide dissemination of existing policies and procedures), as well as wide distribution of the contact information for the district's Title IX and Section 504/Title II coordinators. [DOE Office for Civil Rights Dear Colleague Letter, 10/26/10]
FACT: Facebook Is Simply Enabling Users To Report "Harassing Online Comments" To Facebook And To "Easily Ask For Help From Someone They Trust." In a March 10th statement, Facebook announced "a new way of reporting content on Facebook that allows people to notify a member of their community, in addition to Facebook, when they see something they don't like." The statement continued: