School officials worried about cyberbullying
Tahoe Daily Tribune
LAKE TAHOE – Smartphones, the Internet and social networking sites have forever changed the way individuals interact with information, the world and with each other.
While social commentators continue to debate whether these alterations are essentially positive, negative or a mixture of both, one unquestionably negative and dangerous adverse effect is being felt by the nation’s youths: Cyberbullying.
In early November, Tahoe Women’s Services teamed up with members from the Incline public schools, concerned parents and an officer from the Washoe County School District Police Department to discuss the harmful effects of bullying in schools.
“Many of the recent headlines about teenage suicides were a result of cyberbullying,” said Paul Bankroft, prevention program coordinator for TWS. “Cyberbullying can be really painful, because an individual is being put down publicly. When he or she walks into school on Monday, rather than just a select group of kids knowing about an insult or an embarrassing story, the whole school knows about it, because they all read it on Facebook.”
Bankroft said cyberbullying has a tendency to elicit more cruelty, because the bully does not have to see the victim face-to-face.
“You can’t see the reaction or the consequences,” he said. “It’s very impersonal.”
Katherine Loudon, coordinator of counseling at Washoe County School District, agreed.
“Social networking websites allow people to share embarrassing information with a bigger group of people,” she said.
“It takes on a lot of forms. Some people impersonate others using their personal websites. People use text messages to harass others. It’s important for the school districts to get involved.”
Loudon said it is tough for schools to monitor cyberbullying as most students have access to computers and smartphones at home.
“We’ve looked into the research and it is certainly an issue of safety,” she said.
“We’ve found that cyberbullying inhibits academic performance, so schools are interested. We just encourage parents to become involved and learn what they can do.”
Loudon said it can be challenging for school officials to keep up with the pace of innovate communications technology, but the Internet Technology department at WCSD works collaboratively to keep counselors abreast of technological developments.
“We’re continually refreshing and reviewing our need to know more,” she said.
While the Internet presents certain dangers, Loudon does not want parents to encourage children to eschew interacting on the Web altogether.
“Access to the Internet and all the information is a great thing,” she said. “This isn’t about cutting kids off from information, but encouraging parents to become actively involved with their children’s Internet activities. Conversation and supervision are very important.”
Heath Morrison, WCSD Superintendent, told a gathering of Incline parents in an early November public forum that bullying will not be tolerated by the district.
“The old attitude of ‘boys will be boys’ and that those being bullied need to toughen up is no longer acceptable,” he said.
“We are striving to provide students with a safe positive culture and that includes being mentally safe as well.”
Morrison said district administration is training counselors throughout the school to recognize signs that specific children are being victimized early in the process and formulate solutions.
“Cyberbullying, harassment via texting is not acceptable,” he said. “It causes serious harm.”
Like Morrison, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Superintendent Steve Jennings said there is zero tolerance for bullying, and measures are being made to ensure all children are afforded a safe learning environment.
“Bullying has certainly become a greater issue on the radar at all the schools,” Jennings said.
“This year all the TTUSD schools have begun implementing BEST (Building Effective Schools Together). Teams of administrators, teachers, classified staff and parents and gone through extensive training to develop a positive culture with consistent rules and consequences in all areas of the school.”
Jennings said measurement is a critical part of the BEST program which is why behavioral data has been included inside the program to track issues and situations needing to be addressed.
“This will help tremendously in curtailing bullying,” Jennings said.
Jennings stressed that bullying, cyber or otherwise, is serious enough that parents and students should know they are not alone in the remediation process.
“We are fortunate that Measure A (the annual per-parcel tax that funds programs and teachers) supports counselors at our elementary schools. Each school in the district has counselors that students and parents can turn to for support,” Jennings said.
Consequences, Jennings warned, are a part of the BEST program and said they vary from school to school depending on factors such as grade level, severity of the bullying and other case-by-case details.