Social Media “Challenges” Can Have Serious Consequences

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Reports have surfaced recently of a social-media challenge that encourages students to physically assault teachers or other adults in schools. It follows an earlier “challenge” that called on students to steal or vandalize school property. While most students recognize the danger and consequences of committing criminal acts at school or anywhere, there have been reports of some students being caught, arrested and punished for such behavior already this school year.

NJEA President Sean M. Spiller, NJPSA Executive Director Karen Bingert and NJASA Executive Director Dr. Richard Bozza issued this statement:

New Jersey’s public schools should be safe havens for every student and staff member. Inciting students to commit acts of violence threatens that safety and harms everyone in our school community. We are glad that the overwhelming majority of students respect community standards. However, the online threats that are currently circulating of physical violence against educators are very concerning.

Such threats are not a harmless game or a joke. Even if they are not acted on, they create a climate of fear and concern that harms the entire school community. Students and their parents need to know physical assault or the threat of assault against anyone in our schools will be treated very seriously. Just as we will not tolerate that when students are the target, we will not allow adults in our schools to be threatened or assaulted.  Criminal behavior will be punished and can lead to life-changing consequences for students.

We urge parents to be very aware of their children’s social media consumption and to explain in very clear terms that threats, assaults, thefts, vandalism or any other illegal or dangerous activity will be treated with the utmost seriousness. Saying that the behavior is a result of a social media challenge will not protect a student from very severe consequences including both school-based discipline and criminal punishment if laws are broken.

We also call on social media platforms to act swiftly and decisively to take down any posts that threaten violence in our schools or against any member of our school community. There is no place in our society for inciting or threatening violence or for using such threats to frighten or terrorize anyone in our schools. Platforms that fail in their duty to stop such abuse should face liability for their failure.

Educators tirelessly and selflessly dedicate their lives to teaching, supporting, and guiding students to help them reach their highest potential. A more fitting challenge to students and their families would include words of gratitude and appreciation for these efforts.