Digital sweeps urged to curb e-bullies

Cyber-bullying is becoming a huge problem for schools, and principals have been lobbying hard for the power to seize and search pupils' electronic devices, the outgoing president of the Secondary School Principals Association says.

Principals from throughout the country are in Queenstown this week for their 2013 symposium.

Outgoing president Patrick Walsh said yesterday principals were delighted the Ministry of Education had included in the Education Amendment Bill schools' push for power to seize and search iPads, iPhones and laptops for derogatory comments and inappropriate photographs.

Cyber bullying had grown to serious proportions in the past year with at least two coroners reporting suicides attributed to the problem.

"Principals and counsellors report harm which ranges from kids not sleeping at night and self-harm to suicidal thoughts," Walsh said.

Most bullying was done via Facebook or text messaging.

Technological advancement could be a blessing but there was also "a very dark side to it", he said.

It was also limiting conversation skills to the extent that children felt socially isolated.

Schools were getting smarter, introducing new software that enabled network managers to track usage and block off certain school areas, but educating parents was a significant key.

Walsh was "amazed" that some parents allowed their children to use the internet unchecked in their own homes.

"And yet when I show them what's being written on Facebook, the language used and the quite graphic photos, they're horrified and shocked.

"There's also the stalking that happens."

Dozens of teachers had now been deregistered by the Disciplinary Tribunal of the New Zealand Teachers Council, of which Walsh was a member, for inappropriate relations with students via Facebook or texting, he said.

"It does make me wonder what teachers are being taught about basic things like accepting gifts from students and whether they should be attending their 16th birthday."

The association is also lobbying hard for the bill to include the power to search pupils for weapons and drugs.

"We also want to retain the power to bring in search and sniffer dogs to schools," Walsh said.

"Police are now saying this is a breach of the Bill of Rights, but we argue it's a service for the public good."

Schools could bring in commercial companies to do their own searches.

"Students under the influence should be able to undergo drug testing to ensure they are safe and other students are safe. We think it's akin to the employment context ... students are working with hammers, Skilsaws and abseiling on camps."

There had been widespread support from parents, and submissions had been made to the Education Science Select Committee.

The Southland Times