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Teachers strike back at students' online pranks

Students are increasingly facing lawsuits and expulsions for targeting their teachers online.

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Tech-savvy teenagers are increasingly paying a heavy price – including criminal arrest – for parodying their teachers on the Internet.

Tired of fat jokes and false accusations of teacher-lounge partying or worse, teachers and principals are fighting back against digital ridicule and slander by their students – often with civil lawsuits and long-term suspensions or permanent expulsions.

A National School Boards Association (NSBA) study says that as many as one-third of American teens regularly post inappropriate language or manipulated images on the Web. Most online pranks deride other students. But a NSBA November 2006 survey reported 26 percent of teachers and principals being targeted.

"Kids have been pulling pranks on teachers and principals since there have been schools in the US, but now there's an edge to it – the tone and tenor of some of these attacks cross the line," says Nora Carr, a spokeswoman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina.

In the growing backlash against these cybergoofs, however, real-world norms of propriety are being pitted against the uncertain jurisdictions of the Digital Age. A new test may be emerging on how far online lampooning can go, say First Amendment experts – and to what extent schools can control off-campus pranks.

Cracking down on online bullying

Currently, 45 states have so-called cyberstalking laws and 11 prohibit cyberbullying. Until now, the concern has largely been for students, 80 percent of whom reported Internet bullying in 2006, according to NBTA.

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