WCU faculty and students react to Facebook cyberbullying case

A high school student recently dissed his teacher on his Facebook status and got away with it thanks to his First Amendment rights.

According to the Los Angeles Times, when Donny Dunlap from California called out his biology teacher for giving too much homework on the favored networking website Facebook, a friend snitched to the principal. The comment mocked the teacher’s unhealthy weight saying he “should stop eating fast food,” and called him two hurtful names. The principal was appalled and “asked Donny to take the posting down and apologize,” according to Dunlap’s mother. Dunlap obeyed and said he was sorry.

However, his punishment was not yet over. He was called into the principal’s office and was given a one-day suspension for cyberbullying.

Dunlap is an honors student and a contributing member of the football team. A suspicion was a huge “no” for his school records. Immediately, his parents called out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for advice.

ACLU chastised the school, saying Dunlap’s nonthreatening comments were a part of his First Amendment rights. The school had no justification for suspending Dunlap or even asking him to take the comment off his personal Facebook page. With the high school facing a lawsuit, the suspension was reversed and Dunlap was off the hook.

While there is no specific policy at Western Carolina about cyberbullying or posting mean comments on Facebook, there is a policy on bullying or stalking. Assumedly, should a student’s comment be bullying or “damage to or misuse of the University’s name, image…” or sexual harassment, the student would be dealt with accordingly. He or she would not go without punishment for these are University polices set down by the Student Code of Conduct.

One of Western’s professors, Peter Savage of the theatre department, had a problem with a student once on Facebook.

“Although my school life and personal life interact on Facebook,” said Savage, “I really use Facebook just to post my personal thoughts or interesting or funny links to just let those in my network know what I am doing in my life.

“I had a student who had made a Facebook status that was very passive aggressive toward an action I had taken in class,” he continued. “Although I was never mentioned, it was obviously directed at me. I confronted the student by email and we worked it out. If the behavior continued, I would have taken it by the Department Head and moved up from there.”

Savage, who does not use Facebook as a way to communicate with his students, said that Facebook’s major problem is that is not owned by a certain university or school. It is free for whoever wants to post something on his or her page. Anything can be said, the trick is to not hand out punishment irrationally.

Two students said they would never use Facebook as a means to ridicule a teacher.

Olivia Mears, who has Savage as a Facebook friend, said, “I think the most insulting thing I could relate to about that would be when Sensei Duncan teased me till I made a “grr” face in Karate… But that’s all in jest. So no. I’m not a rash person to ever call out in anger or anything.”

Ashley Fox said if she had a disagreement with a teacher, it would depend on what the situation was. “If it was bad enough, I’d email them personally,” she said.

Peter O’Neal had a different take. O’Neal uses his Facebook as a means of communication and for job connections. He also has Western Carolina professors in his Friends list.

“The closest thing I could possibly get would be something where I would have a status that could be pointed to the professor,” stated O’Neal, “but I would not use any name or call he-she out. Something like, ‘Did you really just do that? What did I do to you?’ A status where the professor could claim it was aimed at him, but it could be just as easily explained as aimed at another person.”