Online bullying by students a growing problem for teachers

Edmonton teacher Vienna Malko-Monterrosa was bullied by email and through Facebook messages by a junior high school student over an 18-month period

Cyberbullying case heard this week by the Alberta Human Rights Commission

Junior high school teacher Vienna Malko-Monterrosa says the francophone school board did not do enough to protect her from an abusive student. (CBC)

The case of an Edmonton teacher who was bullied by a student is becoming more and more common, teachers' organizations say.

“It is an issue,” said Brian Andrais of the Alberta Teachers Association.

“You know our teachers take these things very seriously and when they feel cyberbullied, you know, they're like everyone else. They're hurt by it and harmed by it.”

This week, the Alberta Human Rights Commission heard a complaint from teacher Vienna Malko-Monterrosa who was cyberbullied by a junior high school student over an 18-month period.

The girl started with prank phone calls. The harassment then escalated to nasty emails and Facebook messages.

"It would be better if you died," one of the messages said.

After the girl was expelled and sent to another school, she falsely accused Malko-Monterrosa of sexual assault.  She also sent the teacher a letter calling her "an illegal immigrant" and "an insult to the human race."

Malko-Monterrosa says the harassment made it hard to go to work and left her terrified of opening her email each day. 

"It was very difficult to deal with,” Malko-Monterrosa said. “To come to school everyday. Anticipating. Worried.”

Malko-Monterrosa was cleared of the sexual assault allegation following a police investigation. All parties — including the girl herself — agreed that the online harassment occurred.

Not enough protection for teachers

Malko-Monterrosa’s human rights complaint was not with the student — it was over how the school board, the Conseil Scolaire Centre-Nord, failed to take strong enough action against the girl.

Malko-Monterrosa hopes her case raises awareness about a growing issue.

"I am hoping that this will open the eyes to other teachers, other members of the community, any other educators about the seriousness of cyberbullying,” she said. “And that it can happen to teachers.”

Laura Servage from the University of Alberta gives a course to new teachers on ethics and the law.

She says there aren't enough protections in place for teachers. 

"I think what we have is policies and laws that haven't caught up with the changes that have been wrought by social media,” she said. 

“They have just come so quickly and we don't have the tools to deal with them yet."

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation found that as many as one in five students knew of a teacher who was cyberbullied.

That survey was done in 2008 and the belief is that the number has likely increased since then.

With files from the CBC's Janice Johnston and Briar Stewart