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I am a teacher and have received online threats from a pupil's parents. What can I do?

I am a teacher and have received online threats from a pupil's parents. What can I do?

Cyberbullying is something that increasingly affects teachers as well as children, and is equally serious in both cases. Teachers are entitled to the same amount of protection under the law as pupils.

A rise in online abuse

The most recent figures concerning teacher abuse by parents of pupils were released in the run-up to last November's Anti-Bullying Week by education support services, The Key. The disturbing figures showed that:

  • most head teachers in the UK say that parents of pupils at their school have abused either teachers or the school itself on social media
  • 15% of head teachers say that they have been directly affected by online abuse.

Amongst the kinds of remarks most commonly made online by parents are personal insults, grievances based on things that have happened in school (such as their children being punished) and potentially libellous remarks. Occasionally, there are also threats or veiled threats made towards individual teachers.

What does the law say about cyberbullying?

All UK state schools are obliged under the law to have an official policy in place that prevents all kinds of bullying, as well as taking into account wider anti-discrimination laws. Presently there is no specific law that relates explicitly to bullying, but where bullying extends to any of the following activities, it is against the law for:

  • violence or physical assault of any kind
  • theft
  • hate crimes
  • continuous intimidation or harassment, including name-calling and threats — this may also extend to the sending of abusive texts, emails, phone or social media messages

Furthermore, although cyberbullying is not currently classed as a distinct criminal offence under UK law, there are other laws such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 that may be applied in particular cases. Also, if bullying is conducted via means of a mobile phone, including any kind of abusive calls or texts, then laws tied to the Telecommunications Act 1984 can also be applied. The Communications Act 2003 can also be brought into effect when offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing messages are sent electronically.

When cases are brought before a court, it is often infringements of the aforementioned acts that help to gain a prosecution. Having said that, specific cyber bullying legislation is yet to be brought into force and there are often challenges in cyberbullying cases, particularly where freedom of speech is cited as a mitigating factor.

What to do if you wish to mount a legal challenge

If you feel genuinely concerned for your safety because of the online threats of parents of children at your school, then regardless of the complexities of this area of the law, you should certainly do something about it.

In the first instance, your school will have procedures in place to protect teachers, so you should speak to your head teacher/governors and see what they advise. If you require impartial advice, however, concerning how best to proceed, you should give us a call at Match Solicitors and speak to one of our specialist education solicitors today. 

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