Staying Silent is Bullying

Jayda N. - LLI Cincinnati 

Freedom of speech should only be protected when the speech is not harmful to student decency. Bullying is bullying, and not standing up for someone that is being bullied is prompting the act. In Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools, Kowalski may not have actively participated, however, she created the group S.A.S.H. and allowed bullying to occur on the page. Kowalski claimed that her punishment caused social isolation, but didn’t she cause social isolation for Shay N.?

The group S.A.S.H. was said to stand for “Students Against Sl*ts Herpes” but only one girl was victimized on the page. Kowalski said that her punishment was too harsh since the group was created outside of school, but posts were published on school computers. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, it was decided that if something was going to disturb the operation of the school, then people could get disciplined. The school in Kowalski’s case could tell that something would eventually happen at school. If Shay’s parents did not directly go to the school, then who knows if something would have been done.

Kowalski creating that group may not have been bullying at the beginning, but she did not try to stop the bullying until Shay’s parents went to school officials. In “School Authority Over Cyber Bullying” the author talks about deciding whether or not it is posing a danger to others, but all bullying can potentially be dangerous. In the article, “Cyberspeech” the author talks about cyberbullying a bit more than the other articles. 

Schools talk about preventing cyberbullying - and bullying in general - a lot, but in most cases nothing is really done about the actual bullying.

All in all, Kowalski supported the bullying even if she did not completely engage in the act itself. She labeled the group “Students Against Sl*ts Herpes” but one student even said that it really meant “Students Against Shay’s Herpes”. Kowalski did post pictures of Shay and she gave pictures of Shay to other people in the group. I completely agree with the punishment that was given to Kowalski, because I do not condone bullying at all. Kowalski knew what she was doing, and the main point is that Shay could have really taken the bullying to heart. The case file may have been about disruptions in the school, but what actually matters is that someone could have really been harmed if action was not taken.

Sources Considered 

  • Kowalski v. Berkely County Schools, 652 F.3d 565 (4th Cir. 2011).
  • Walsh, Mark. "Court Upholds Discipline of Student Over Internet Bullying." The School Law Blog. Education Week. 27 July 2011.
  • LoMonte, Frank. "Supreme Court's Online Speech No-Decision Counts as a "Win" for Student First Amendment Rights." Student Press Law Center. 18 Jan. 2012.
  • "School Authority Over Cyber Bullying." WR150 First Amendment Portfolio. e-Portfolios Directory.
  • Hudson Jr., David, L. "Cyberspeech." K-12 Public School Student Expression Overview. Newseum Institute. 1 Aug. 2008.