Almost daily a new phone app is trending, and many Northwest Arkansas schools have had to adjust disciplinary polices to respond to constantly changing social media.
“Social media will be a gray area for the next 20 years to come,” said Ben Catterlin an attorney at Catterlin Law Firm.
Bullying in schools is something that’s been an issue long before social media came around.
But now, those apps allow kids to post hateful or inappropriate things with a push of a button.
“We get reports of kids bullying online, sending Snapchats. The kids think that if they send something it won’t get reported, but once you put something on social media it’s there forever,” said Barrett Robinson, Asst. principal at Pea Ridge High School.
Robinson said they’ve had to update many of their policies to stay current with changing social media.
“We look at the impact of the school day. That’s first and foremost,” said Robinson.
Many times, when schools are made aware of a post made by a student they don’t always rush to punish them.
“Does this disrupt the learning of the school day? Could this lead to something bigger? Then we go from there. It really is a case by case basis,” explained Robinson.
The issue of First Amendment rights is also something on the schools’ minds.
“Generally, you’re protected on your free speech. So anything that you say is quote un-quote protected unless it falls under several categories. And one of them is what you call a true threat,” said Catterlin.
Catterlin said schools first priority, by law, is to protect kids.
So, if a student makes a threatening post, the school has to intervene even if they aren’t on school grounds.
“When that speech turns into the possibility of threatening someone..it doesn’t have to be directly or indirectly, but anytime that comes out you lose those protections,” said Catterlin.
Robinson said social media has made it more difficult for them to always keep a safe learning environment, so it’s important parents get involved.
“The big thing parents can do to help out with their kids is honestly by monitoring their kids social media,” said Robinson.
As fpr laws when it comes to social media, Catterlin said we will continue to see it develop,
“It’s a new area of law that we’re still trying to evolve, but people have to know just posting something on social media is not some safe blanket zone,” said Catterlin.