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Israel's Education Ministry Issues Punitive Steps for Online Bullying

Standardized measures for dealing with online bullying, violence and nudity are laid down in the Education Ministry's new directives.

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A high-school class in Haifa. Illustrative photo.Credit: Ilya Melnikov

The Education Ministry Wednesday issued new directives to schools aimed at preventing online bullying. One of the new instructions is that the posting of online photos or videos with nudity or sexual acts must be reported to the police.

In its memorandum on dealing with Internet abuse, the ministry mandated the ways in which schools need to deal with various online behaviors by students. When explicit photos or video clips are involved, even if they are consensual, schools must provide both the students and their parents with counselling, according to the new rules.

Any student uploading offensive material must be suspended and schools must prepare an intervention plan in consultation with psychologists, the directive says.

The school principal is authorized to expel a student permanently if he believes, after discussing the case, that expulsion is the correct course of action.

Schools must also act against online violence, such as verbal attacks, rumor spreading and the ostracizing of students.

Educational teams are also authorized to inform parents of the goings-on on social networks. They are prohibited from disclosing details that could identify the minors involved, but they must see to it that the offending students’ graduation certificates reflect their misconduct.

The new guidelines forbid teachers from going through a student’s personal effects — including computer, tablet and smart phone — even if the student is suspected of attacking another or committing other online offenses. In such cases, teachers must report to the principal, who is obliged to protect the student’s rights and privacy when examining the incident.

The directives are based on the assumption that physical and online behaviors and events cannot be separated. “So when the principal and school staff receive information about an irregular incident outside the school that is associated with the school — for example, an incident on social networks — they must handle the matter together with the parents,” a ministry official said.

The directives expand the authority of teachers to deal with incidents outside the school or after school hours. For example, a principal may to take action against a planned event outside the school at which students are likely to drink alcohol.

Principals or teachers who hear of violent events outside school or after school hours — such as repeated bullying, breaking and entering, carrying weapons and drug and alcohol abuse — must investigate the incidents and talk to the students involved or students who have information about the incidents, the directives say. A principal who hears of a student carrying weapons outside school must report this immediately to the police in his community or city.

The directives also deal with the use of cellphones in classrooms during lessons, a problem that has become acute for many teachers. They allow teachers to punish students who repeatedly use their cellphones during classes and compel them to deposit their mobiles with the school secretary, to be returned after school hours. Teachers may also summon the parents, reduce the student’s conduct grade and make him or her write a paper on the issue.

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