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The ugly side of social media, school punishment for cyberbullying

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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

The method of punishment for bad behavior on social media, it's something a Charleston County school board member said needs to be addressed.

This comes after the board had to intervene for the first time last week punishing a student for posting a racial slur on Twitter.

The definition of cyberbullying sometimes depends on who you ask.

Board member Michael Miller said, "We deal with cyberbullying. Sometimes it's a little gray because it's based on interpretation."

School districts in the Lowcountry all have similar definitions of cyberbullying in their student conduct handbooks. They refer to harassment and intimidation done through digital platforms like email or social media.

It's not the definition that Miller says is the problem, it's defining the punishment.

"We have to look at it by case by case scenario for one, but two, also have some hard lines drawn where we could determine what the punishment should be. I think we as a district must do a better job at setting our policy and making sure the policy has as less gray as it can," said Miller.

School districts and state lawmakers across the nation have outlined consequences for all types of bullying, but Miller says this is new territory for the school board.

"If a student or a child or a teacher feels threatened in anyway, I think it's our duty to make sure that we set policies in place to insure safety at all times for all of our students," Miller said.

Just last month, the state house delayed a decision to make cyberbullying illegal. If the bill passes, an adult could go to jail for up to 6 months and someone under 18 could spend a full month behind bars.

Miller said, "We need to make sure that children understand, our students understand, that sometimes what we do in the privacy of our homes, if someone else were to feel threatened by our actions, we need to make sure that we understand those actions. Maybe we as a district ought to do a better job in making sure that our students understand the consequences of their actions, even if their actions are related around social media."

Miller says he plans to talk to the rest of the school board about having the discussion at one of their upcoming meetings.

Dorchester District 2 and Berkeley County school spokeswomen said they do have policies in place for cyberbullying, along with guidelines for punishment. Both districts say punishments could range from an apology up to expulsion depending on the severity of the situation.

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