Anti-school Violence Program Targets Ostracism, Cyber-bullying

The Education Ministry's new anti-violence program targets social violence, including ostracism, rumors and cyber-bullying, Haaretz has learned.

School staff members have been given responsibility for punishing offenders with methods including transferring them to different classes, brief suspensions and teacher-parent conferences, and long-term suspensions.

"Some children are being targeted for very long periods of time, even years, by grave cyber-violence, and we decided to give it the necessary attention," said Hannah Shedmi, the ministry's Psychological Services director. "It's not physical violence but it can result in profound humiliation for the victim. This kind of bullying can amount to severe abuse, and the schools must be able to react accordingly, whether with educational efforts or punishments."

The program includes a complete ban on cell phones and other gadgets in classrooms, and an amendment to the Student Rights Law to reinforce regulation on expelling students.

Shedmi said the new program means the ministry is getting tough.

"Israeli society is more violent than before, and the schools are hardly isolated from this change. We decided the education system must encourage people to follow rules and regulations. The students must know that if their cell phone is on in class, it can be taken away. It's part of education."

Public criticism of the plan missed its aim - creating a safer social and academic atmosphere in schools, she said. "It's not just punishments, it's an attempt to define what we expect of students and what it means to break the rules. We set up the mandatory guidelines, but each school, along with students and parents, is expected to set up precise responses to each offense."

Education Minister Gideon Saar wants to amend the Student Rights Act so that expelled students cannot return without appealing to the district director. Shedmi said the local authority will be responsible for finding students alternative frameworks before their hearings, but local officials told Haaretz the plan was "unrealistic, unless she wants me to employ the student as a clerk in City Hall until his case is heard."

"None of the reactions to the plan address the rights of the victims," says Shedmi. "The new plans allows the majority of students to be safe at school."