Schools could be sued for cyber bullying: experts
The territory's schools could be sued if students become the victims of cyber bullying in Canberra playgrounds, academics say.
Two University of Canberra legal experts warned extending technology from the classroom to the playground - in the form of wireless internet access - meant cyber bullies could use school equipment to harass their victims.
Academics Amy Dwyer and Patricia Easteal said rates of bullying in Australian schools are among the world's highest, with half of students affected.
While only 15 per cent of students said they had experienced cyber bullying, that number was on the rise.
In an academic article published last month, Ms Dwyer and Ms Easteal explored whether technology could expose schools to new challenges in protecting pupils from the rising menace of cyber bullying.
Their paper, Cyber Bullying in Australian Schools: The question of negligence and liability, applied existing laws to cyber bullying to discover if a school could be liable for the abuse.
Ms Dwyer and Ms Easteal found a school could be responsible if the cyber bullying occurred on school grounds, during school hours or using school owned technology. The pair said the school could also be liable if the bullying occurred out of hours but in connection with a school-related activity, or had no policy to protect students.
"Many schools are now providing a technological learning environment; the new Harrison School in Gungahlin provides an 'iPad-ready playground' for its students, with wireless internet covering the school grounds," they wrote.
"If one student bullies another at recess or lunch using the school-owned server, it is possible the school will be held responsible for that cyber bullying given its need to supervise and protect - its duty of care."
The ACT Education Directorate said the territory's public schools require students and parents to sign a code of practice to use information technology equipment.
The code varies between schools but students are asked to not send or produce things that might upset others.
The government also publishes an information sheet on ways to help keep children safe in cyberspace.
But the authors warned policing and enforcing the code was vital in stopping cyber bullying.
"It is also possible that schools may be responsible if they have knowledge of the cyber bullying, or if they regulate student conduct, including through student conduct or anti-bullying policies, in such a way that they are subjecting students to its control but are inadequately implementing or monitoring anti-bullying policy regulations," the authors wrote.
"We strongly recommend that schools therefore should be proactive and take on increasing responsibilities to protect students from cyber bullying."
If you are subjected to cyber bullying, see beyondblue.org.au or call Lifeline on 131 114.Full Story