13 May 2012

Principals want more power to combat cyber-bullying

2:26 pm on 13 May 2012

Secondary principals want more power to search students' mobile phones and computers as they deal with ever-increasing cases of cyber-bullying.

The growth of social networking sites is increasing outlets for bullies to torment their victims and educators say they need to be able to search and seize devices and data to stop harm coming to students.

The most common ways school cyber-bullies inflict harm on their victims is by uploading embarrassing or violent videos or sending threatening texts or other messages.

The president of the Secondary Principals' Association says under the Education Act, teachers have an implied power allowing them to search and seize, but believes that is not enough to deal with the onslaught of incidents.

Patrick Walsh says changes being made to the legislation could mean police would get the power to seize devices from students' homes, and teachers want similar authority in and near their schools.

"So within a reasonable time and distance from the school if we believe, for instance, that a student is setting up a fight club in a local park, and it's been recorded on a cellphone or iPhone, then we have the right to go that park, take the phone and get the evidence."

Mr Walsh says most bullying actually happens outside the school gate, but it is usually schools that have to deal with the harm it causes.

"The law currently suggests that if it has an educational impact inside of the school which is disruptive, even though it takes place outside of the school, that we do have jurisdiction.

"That's not formally recorded in the Education Act, and that's what we've asked the ministry to clarify by way of a change to legislation."

Mr Walsh says the present law lags behind the reality and he urges parents to get involved with their schools to try and stamp out cyber-bullying.

His plea comes on the heels of Justice Minister Judith Collins asking the Law Commission to fast-track work it is doing on recommendations for legislative changes to tackle cyber-bullying.