Students face mass suspension over online teacher slur

Students face mass suspension over online teacher slur

Summary: Is suspension the only way to cope with students harassing teachers online?

TOPICS: Education

Inappropriate comments from students to teachers often result in detention, parents being informed and in extreme cases, suspension for a period of time.

If a student makes such a comment in class, a few classmates may snicker, but its highly unlikely the every student who giggles is going to be punished for such an action. However, online, the digital equivalent of a laugh is there for all to see -- and works as tangible proof if school authorities become involved.

That is exactly what happened to 28 secondary students from Colaiste Chiarain secondary school in Croom, Co Limerick, Ireland. As reported by, these students happened to "like" a controversial message containing an image and text that concerned a teacher's personal life. Although details are sketchy, the move to mass-suspend so many students for promoting the message -- spread through Facebook by "liking" it -- resulted in these 28 students being suspended for two days.

Although the message was eventually removed, principal Noel Malone says that the "unprecedented" move to send the better part of a classroom away for several days was necessary, as the message constituted a break in the school's anti-bullying policy.

Malone told the publication it was a "gross invasion of a member of the school community's personal life." Students may not realize that "liking" such a message is a way to send it further across the social network, but whether clicking that button is accidental or not, the consequences of such things "can be very grave." Something that the school's students may have just learnt, although the lesson was certainly swift.

This kind of move on a school's part shows clearly that in the same way that bullying cannot be tolerated inside of a classroom, students should not believe they are safe online either. As a former teacher, I understand that these types of messages -- which are more often found online that admitted, and not just by students, either -- can have serious detrimental affects on someone's digital footprint.

A remark made by a student in the classroom can be quickly taken care of and forgotten with a rapid chastisement, but once a message is placed online, especially if accompanied by images, it is much harder to erase. By permitting the mass suspension of so many students, Malone has sent a clear message to those remaining -- that such behaviour is not tolerated.

However, when it comes to teaching our students digital citizenship, it seems little more than a losing battle. Adults -- shall we say 'trolls' -- leave little positive impressions on children who are reading, and you only need to surf YouTube to find bile spewed by both kids and adults alike on any video uploaded. 

There's no easy answer to this without the screams of "censorship" and "online rights" ringing in our ears. The global issue aside, perhaps the best option is to focus on the ground and the individual, by encouraging schools to take the same swiftly-punishable route and nip such problems in the bud before the next generation grow up considering these types of commentary acceptable -- at least where it can be viewed easily by anyone online. 

Topic: Education

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Okay I'll grant

    I'm looking at this through the "lens" of being a US citizen and largely unaware of how privacy laws work in the UK and all but here's where I see some issues - 1) Did this happen during school hours and/or on school equipment? 2) Was this picture taken in a public place? Ultimately I feel that the correct decision was made in regards to the one who posted the image no matter if he was on school time and/or equipment or not but I'm not sure if it went a bit far by giving the same punishment to those who "liked" it. Perhaps a lesser form of punishment would have been more appropriate as there is proof of who initially posted the image.
    • Is equipment reasonable?

      I mean, if I used my gun to do something as opposed to using a neighbor's (with his permission, or without)...

      Careers can be killed as quickly as people, so I use the parallel with enough ulterior meanings...

      Children are there to learn. Not to poke fun at anybody they don't like. It's that simple. PERIOD.

      Just as much as teachers aren't supposed to ill-treat students, the opposite condition is also true - you don't screw around with a teacher.

      There is nothing harsh about this penalty, and maybe the parents of the kids will do what's ethically right.

      And, yes, if it was done on public grounds, then the teacher is in trouble too. I wouldn't argue against that... but who said grade school kiddies have the same level of IQ, EQ, and ethics as (most) adults? They prefer cliques, drinking, smoking, getting knocked up, etc... We were all that age, and all of us - in one form or another, subtle or gross - did rebel over some issue at some point.

      Interesting lens, but not all of us in the US live and act in the way your lens presents us as being.
    • Oops, "is equipment immaterial"...

      sorry about that
  • Suspend them all

    The school should confiscate these toys. They are not relevant to learning, and since kids in "developing countries" do things better than we do and they don't need or use these toys... (So there's the tangent into forcing tablets and leased e-books down our throats as well)

    I had hard teachers as a kid. Other students behaved like animals, and didn't like it when he told them to shut up. Few teachers were the flip-side of that hard instructor, meaning they allowed the kids to rule the roost...

    Or if people want Big Brother, where only the little kids can upend or trip up every teacher as they see fit... Orwell and the writer of "Lord of the Flies" must be looking down from Heaven and noting how much fun Santa is having.

    Sorry for any typos, I wrote this on a tablet...
  • Why So Sensitive?

    I don't understand why speaking the truth is a grave, punishable offense. Calling a teacher out as gay and using a visual gag is meant to be humorous, not serious. To use it as a means to create humor is creative and ingenious. Liking a certain joke, personally finding it humorous, shouldn't be punished as some sort of mortal sin. You are taking away from these kids' education because you chose to have hurt feelings. It was all in the perspective of the teacher to assume he was being bullied, when they had the choice to not even consider it; so, get over it.