The bullying that bus monitor Karen Klein endured on a ride home from an upstate New York school was not only painful and egregious, but also shows how student harassment of teachers and administrators has become more spiteful and damaging in the online era.
Much attention has been paid to students who bully students in class, after school and on the Internet. Less attention has been given to equally disturbing behavior by students who harass instructors, principals and other adults.
It's something that's long existed; think ganging up on the substitute teacher. But it has become increasingly cruel and even dangerous as students get access to advanced technology at earlier ages.
In Maryland, students posed as their vice principal's twin 9-year-old daughters on pedophile websites, saying they had been having sex with their father and were looking for a new partner. Elsewhere, students have logged on to neo-Nazi and white supremacist sites claiming to be a Jewish or minority teacher and inciting the groups' anger. Others have stolen photographs from teachers' cellphones and posted them online.
"The ways they provoke teachers are limited only by their imaginations," said lawyer Parry Aftab, who described the above cases as just a few of the hundreds she's handled.
Compared with those, what happened to Klein in Greece, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester, was mild, Aftab said.
Students poked the bus monitor with a textbook, called her a barrage of obscenities and threatened to urinate on her front door, among other callous insults. One student taunted: "You don't have a family because they all killed themselves because they don't want to be near you."
Klein's oldest son killed himself 10 years ago.
Eventually, she appears to break down in tears. A cellphone video of the incident that was posted on YouTube went viral.
Students harassing teachers isn't new, but one of the new ways that students are harassing teachers has become known as "cyberbaiting." Students irritate a teacher to the point that the teacher breaks down; that reaction then is captured in photos or video to post online. A Norton Online Family Report published last year found that 21 percent of teachers had experienced or knew another teacher who had experienced "cyberbaiting."
Then there are cases of students who have created websites and blogs against teachers and administrators. In South Florida, one student created a Facebook group page called, "Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I've ever met!"
The student, Katherine Evans, was suspended for three days. She sued and eventually settled for $15,000 to cover her legal fees.