Students face mass suspension over online teacher slur

Is suspension the only way to cope with students harassing teachers online?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

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 Independent.ie, 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. 

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