Revolutionary Cyberbullying Battle: N.J. District Empowers Schools to Seize and Analyze Students’ Cell Phones

TechWizard Feature: N.J. District Can Seize, Examine Kids’ Cell Phones Under New Rules to Battle Cyberbullying

New Jersey School District Implements Electronics Policy to Combat Cyberbullying

The Central Regional School District in Ocean County, New Jersey, has announced a new electronics policy that allows officials to search the contents of students’ cell phones. The policy was enacted following the suicide of a 14-year-old student who was allegedly bullied. In addition to phone searches, middle school students are required to store their phones in special pockets during class, while high schoolers must either turn off their phones and put them away or place them in designated pockets while at school.

The new policy, which was adopted in August, applies to all students in grades 7 through 12 at Central Regional, which enrolls approximately 2,331 students from Berkeley Township, Island Heights, Ocean Gate, Seaside Heights, and Seaside Park. Central Regional Superintendent Douglas Corbett and school board secretary Kevin O’Shea did not provide comments on the new policy or the reasons behind the changes.

Although schools in New Jersey have the authority to search students’ cell phones, experts suggest trying less intrusive methods to gather information before resorting to phone searches. Some critics argue that searching students’ phones raises concerns about surveillance in schools and the erosion of students’ privacy rights. Joe Johnson, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union-New Jersey, stated, “The current state of the law seems to give school boards broad discretion to do these types of searches. But, this is part of a broader issue of school surveillance and the erosion of students’ rights to privacy.”

Under the new policy, school officials at Central Regional can search a student’s phone if there is reasonable suspicion that district or board policies, rules, or regulations have been violated, or if there is reasonable suspicion that the device contains information pertinent to a school investigation. This policy update is an amendment to the district’s previous policy on the use of electronic communication and recording devices, which did not explicitly state that phones could be searched.

It remains unclear whether the new policy is directly related to the changes Central Regional planned to make following the suicide of 14-year-old student Adriana Kuch in February. Adriana’s death gained national attention after her family claimed she died days after being attacked in a school hallway by classmates. The assault was recorded on student cell phones and shared on social media. Four of Adriana’s classmates were subsequently charged in connection with the attack.

Since Adriana’s death, Central Regional officials have faced increased scrutiny. The former superintendent, Triantafillos Parlapanides, resigned in February after allegedly disclosing personal information about Adriana’s family and health history in emails to reporters. In the weeks following her death, numerous students, alumni, and parents came forward with their own stories of alleged bullying in the Central Regional School District. Many of these incidents involved cyberbullying, including harassing messages, videos, and photographs shared on platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram. Some students also reported the existence of social media pages dedicated to showcasing videos of fights at Central Regional.