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Should Students Who Commit Cyberbullying Be Suspended From School?

Bullying at school is hardly a new phenomenon. Yet, in today’s digital age, with all its technology and social networking options, bullies are able to act out their maliciousness in an easy, cowardly fashion. Further, because of the Internet, the bullying is not singularly directed. Instead, it is widely broadcast, and the victims find themselves shamed not by one vicious bully or a group of them. Virtually, the whole world can participate, and certainly the act of bullying spreads through the school community like a firestorm. Recently, as a result of more publicized acts of bullying and a louder national discussion about the problem, states have begun to enact legislation to combat the problem. Bullies can find themselves in jail; and therefore, should they be suspended from school? Absolutely.

Cyberbullying consists of emails, text messages, Facebook posts and tweets designed to harass, shame, and mock a student. It can consist of vitriolic, hyperbolic, false text or embarrassing, humiliating photos. The bully does not confront his/her victim directly, and the victim has no so safe haven, no place to hide. The victims of cyberbullying often experience fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and even commit suicide (the recent Rutgers case in New Jersey).

Like parents or a parent at home, schools are responsible for providing a safe, happy, nurturing environment for young people during school hours. As such, schools (as well as states) must confront cyberbullying and establish sanctions for those who engage in this malicious activity. Such sanctions should parallel and mirror the impact of legal punishments. Suspension is indeed an appropriate punishment. It removes the bully from the school environment, thereby preventing him/her from acquiring new “material” for his/her attacks. Of course, with technology, the student bully can never be fully detached from the school, but suspension would lessen the bully’s access to other students’ lives and also prevent him/her from contact with other bullies who might be encouraging the behavior.

Suspension also gives the bully a chance to reflect on his/her actions and, hopefully, receive appropriate help in order to correct the abhorrent behavior. Suspension, like legal sanctions, can act as deterrent.The suspended bully will also experience a sense of shame and humiliation. This could lead to a sense of empathy – a realization of the pain he or she has caused in his/her victims.

For these reasons, suspension from school is an appropriate and possibly effective punishment for the cyberbully. It should be noted further that school suspension must be in conjunction with legal punishment and parental control over the cyberbullies access to, and use of, technology.