There was an article published in the New York Times last week which discussed the case of Katherine Evans. Katherine was displeased with her high school English teacher and posted about this displeasure on Facebook: “To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred.”
Katherine apparently removed the post only after a few days, but a couple of months later was suspended by her school for “cyberbullying.” [point of order: we typically do not refer to online harassment involving an adult as cyberbullying] From the media reports, Katherine’s actions neither constituted a threat nor resulted in a disruption at school—the two common features of cyberbullying incidents that would warrant a significant formal response from the school. Did Katherine cross the line? Without question her actions were inappropriate. Were they subject to discipline at school? Maybe—but probably not suspension. Students are allowed to criticize teachers and other school officials, again, as long as it is not threatening or disruptive to the school. This can be a fine line indeed. It will be interesting to see how the courts rule in this case. My gut is telling me that the school could have handled this case differently, but I’m sure we do not have all of the details yet. Stay tuned.