Bullying from cyberspaceDistrict may need to police electronic communications
Washington School District personnel have never had to enforce the district’s bullying code outside of school. If House Bill 196 is passed, that could change.
According to the proposed bill, schools would have to include in their codes of conduct incidents with social media off school grounds.
Right now the Washington Community School District takes action if something happens on social media — for example a text message sent from one student to another — at school or if a derogatory Facebook post happened off campus but escalates back to the school.
Washington High School principal Erik Buchholz was interested to learn the bill includes off-campus incidents. He isn’t sure of the details in the bill, especially with the school utilizing the 1:1 program.
“I’m not naive to think it doesn’t happen,” Buchholz said. “Right now, off campus, there is little we can do unless it comes back to school grounds.”
There have been incidents of cyberbullying this school year, Buchholz said.
To prevent cyberbullying from happening within the district, students are blocked from accessing all social media Web sites on campus.
Buchholz said members of the faculty have approached him about removing the restriction on social media sites. However, he’s not ready to make that decision yet.
“I don’t feel comfortable with that,” he said. “I need to do more research on the educational aspects of those Web sites before I make that decision.”
The school district also has consequences in place if students are caught cyberbullying. According to the student handbook, the first time a student violates the policy they lose the privilege of using the computer at home for three weeks and a letter is sent to the parent. The second time the privilege is lost for nine weeks and a meeting is held with the parents, student and school administration. The third time the right to take home the computer is revoked.
There are many ways for students to report bullying. They can tell a teacher, speak with a guidance counselor, or report it online. Buchholz said the online reporting is used very little.
Like Buchholz, Schools Superintendent Mike Jorgensen has been watching the proposed legislation. He also has his concerns about policing student
behavior while not at school.
“This would put some burden with us,” Jorgensen said. “We would have to become the police outside of school.”
Jorgensen wonders what else the legislation will ask the schools to do.
“We’re supposed to provide this wonderful and great education but we’re supposed to be mom and dad as well,” he said. “It’s another unfunded mandate. I’m empathetic to the intent of the law.”
Jorgensen said if there is a situation of cyberbullying through Facebook posts they are usually turned over to the police department.
To combat the issue of cyberbullying the Washington Community School District (WCSD) has Washington Police Investigator Shawn Ellingson assist in teaching digital citizenship to students. Ellingson teaches an orientation class for the new 1:1 students and parents at the high school.
“I discuss issues like cyberbullying and predators,” Ellingson said. “Cyberbullying is just a different way for kids to bully. I tell kids that cyberbullying is one of the most cowardly ways for kids to bully.”
Ellingson doesn’t only go to the high school. Last week he was over at the middle school in Rachel Meyer’s class discussing social awareness. Before the class meets, Ellingson will look into who has a Facebook page.
“I’ll make a slide show of the kids’ pictures that they have on Facebook and play it as they’re coming into class,” Ellingson said. “I’ll talk to the kids about their privacy settings. If it goes online there is access to it one way or another.”
Ellingson discusses with them what to do when there is something on Facebook or a text that they’ve received.
“I give the kids game plans,” he said. “I tell them don’t respond, don’t retaliate, and tell a trusted adult.”
After teaching these classes Ellingson said it’s not unusual to have a student approach him.
“I have had kids come up and report to me afterward,” he said. “Usually, it’s because the kids didn’t know before that it could be harassment.”