SCHOOLS have been told to ban all students from taking photographs of other pupils or members of staff under new guidelines to combat cyber bullying.
The radical advice from secondary school managers is the latest move in the drive to combat electronic bullying through social media websites, text and picture messaging, email, chatrooms and gaming sites.
In its advice to 400 schools sent out last week, the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) said the only exception should be when the pictures were specifically required for a school project.
The damage caused by cyber-bullying, which has been linked to some recent teen suicides in Ireland, has forced schools to improve their response to the fast-growing problem.
A ban on the generally harmless activity of taking photographs in school, other than in limited circumstances, shows the extent to which the management body has to go to protect its staff and pupils in the age of social media.
Other school management bodies are also taking action to tackle the cyber bullies.
The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) recently advised its 93 schools to strengthen their codes of behaviour to cover breaches of discipline arising from the misuse of online data or social media, and to include as possible punishment student suspension or expulsion.
A ban on the generally harmless activity of taking photos in school, other than in limited circumstances, shows the extent to which the management body has to go to protect its staff and pupils in the age of social media.
The JMB sent out advice to its member schools last week and other school management bodies are also taking action.
The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) has advised its 93 schools to strengthen their codes of behaviour to cover misuse of online data and to include as punishment student suspension or expulsion.
ACCS general secretary Ciaran Flynn said they have had to deal with a number of issues recently, including separate incidents where students set up hoax Facebook pages in the names of a principal and another student.
The Irish Vocational Education Association, which represents 258 schools, expects to have a set of procedures for dealing with cyber bullying ready by the end of the year.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn also has an expert group working on new rules for schools around all forms of bullying, including cyber bullying.
JMB general secretary Ferdia Kelly told the Irish Independent that there was an emerging consensus that the most effective and lasting way of preventing bullying was through a whole-school approach.
This involves school policies in areas such as anti-bullying initiatives, codes of behaviour and the use of social media as an educational tool, as well as the involvement of parents.
Cyber bullying in school communities is found mainly between students, while there are increasing reports of student-to-staff cyber bullying.
A key focus of the updated JMB guidelines is on social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, which many teachers now use as effective educational tools.
The big challenge for schools is to ensure that the use of such sites does not facilitate cyber bullying or breaches of privacy, and the guidelines provide practical suggestions on how to safeguard those involved.
The JMB warns: "Connecting with students on social media sites can seem like an effective means of communication.
"However, this gives students potential to access personal information about teachers and the opportunity to target them with abusive behaviour."
Part of the advice to teachers is to not use their personal Twitter or Facebook accounts for any school-related projects, but to set up separate accounts.
Teachers are also told to avoid connecting directly with students by using Facebook pages and to protect their tweets on Twitter, whether for personal or school-related purpose, so that they are only viewable by approved users.
On the subject of pictures, the guidelines say students should not be allowed to take pictures of staff or other students unless specifically required for a school project
Principals have had to deal with situations where pictures taken in the classroom, or elsewhere in the school, have been posted online, inappropriately.