The explosion in popularity of communication technology and its ease of use has spawned an unintended consequence — cyberbullying — a form of bullying so insidious that President Obama this month hosted a conference on teenage bullying, with cyberbullying taking a prominent part.
The three school districts that cover Northwest Tucson — Marana Unified School District, Flowing Wells School District and Amphitheater Public Schools — all have experienced incidences of cyberbullying among their students, and have policies in place to deal with offenders.
Nicholas J. Clement, PhD, superintendent of Flowing Wells School District, said the only cyberbullying incidents to happen in the district occurred at the high school level, with none reported at the elementary or middle school levels.
“Most of these incidents happen on the weekends when the kids are using Facebook,” Clement said.
In the current school year, four incidences of cyberbullying were reported and handled, according to Clement. One was a non-sexual harassment incident with texting and the child’s parent took action on the incident. Two sexual harassment texting incidents got the respective students out-of-school suspensions, while the fourth incident involved threats and intimidation by texting and Facebook, also earning the student an out-of-school suspension.
In the 2009-2010 school year, Flowing Wells had one non-sexual harassment complaint and two incidences of harassment bullying using texting. The latter two incidents resulted in out-of-school suspensions.
“We give kids counseling and try to mediate things that happen on weekends, but when it spills over into school and someone reports it, then we deal with it,” Clement said. “Whether it happens in or out of school, if it relates to school, we take action. If it happens out of school and there is a nexus that gets us involved, we investigate and act appropriately.”
Clement said cyberbullying falls under the Flowing Wells harassment policy, where the length of a suspension would be left to the decision of the school administrator, who would act depending on the severity of the problem.
“We want to stay in preventative mode on this issue and any concern that is brought forward, we deal with it,” Clement added. “And as technology becomes more accessible, there will be more situations where we’re dealing with it. But right now, cyberbullying represents the smallest number of referrals for behavior problems that we have.”
Todd Jaeger, associate to the superintendent and general counsel for Amphitheater Public Schools, said his district has experienced several cyberbullying situations in various forms.
“We’ve had the kind of blog type of instance where a student writes, “I hate so and so,’” Jaeger said. “Then everyone goes online and posts their reasons why they agree.”
But such incidents are rare in the district, Jaeger said, “because kids are aware enough they shouldn’t do things like that, especially when they are leaving a trail.”
Jaeger said the district has seen some related behavior where cell phone photos and messages were used to intimidate and sexually harass a student.
“It would take the form of a student who has obtained a photo or video of someone in a compromising position and then forwards that photo or video to others to embarrass the student,” he said. “Other situations might be where kids message back and forth, talking about another student who is not a part of the conversation.”
Such behavior occurs both on and off the school grounds, and if there is some kind of school nexus, Jaeger said the district then has jurisdiction and will get involved.
“We consider if it’s related to other events at school, if there’s some propensity for the behavior to continue in some manner on school grounds, and if so, if it could lead to escalation of the situation,” Jaeger said. “Those are things we look for in determining whether we should get involved.”
Jaeger added that the district also considers the nature of the behavior. If the incident is on a computer or cell phone and would threaten someone, it would be dealt with the same as if it was done at school.
While Amphitheater has experienced some incidents of cyberbullying at the elementary and middle school levels, Jaeger characterized them as being resolved at very low level, especially when the student might not understand what they are doing. He said the district experiences about “six or seven instances of higher level cyberbullying a year.”
The district has policies in place on how to investigate and deal with cyberbullying, which is considered the same as bullying under the Amphitheater’s code of conduct.
Amphitheater has sponsored forums for parents on bullying, hostility, aggression and drugs, and recently had forums on cyberbullying in various schools across the district. Amphitheater intends to continue the forums, along with internal bullying prevention efforts, Jaeger noted.
At Marana Unified School District (MUSD), cyberbullying is treated as a form of bullying and disciplined accordingly, said Tamara Crawley, director of public relations.
“Infractions could result in detention, short or long term suspension, or for repeated offenses, expulsion,” Crawley said.
Crawley was unable to cite statistics specifically on cyberbullying because the district doesn’t separate it as a category from bullying. However, in this school year, MUSD has had 69 infractions of bullying by 61 students. In the 2009-2010 school year, there were 115 infractions by 98 students. The district has nearly 13,000 students.
“Cyberbullying falls under the category of harassment, threat, intimidation and bullying,” Crawley pointed out.
At MUSD, some of the behaviors encompassed by bullying include, explicit or implied threats of bodily harm, weapon possession, extortion, repeated insults and/or teasing, assault, social ostracism, and sexual harassment and intimidation.
Any student concerns on bullying or cyberbullying are investigated thoroughly and treated confidentially, Crawley said. In the event it’s found that bullying has occurred, discipline is enforced, she added.
Crawley pointed out that MUSD is one of the few school districts in the state to have a minimum of one counselor at every school. Such counselors begin working with students at the elementary level, teaching them about bullying and techniques to deal with it, especially in coming forward and informing an adult. Counselors also teach bullying prevention strategies through classroom lessons.
In addition, each MUSD school operates on a district-wide integrative behavior system called Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support, which develops school wide attributes, such as, be respectful, responsible, safe and proud, Crawley said.
Clement of Flowing Wells pointed out that sometimes technology can be a positive thing in school when used correctly.
“While our students are allowed to have cell phones in class, the phones must be either off or on silent so they don’t disrupt the class,” Clement said. “Taking calls and texting are not allowed in class.”
However, he noted, cell phones have their uses in schoolrooms. In a recent automotive class, students were tearing down an engine and taking photos at each stage of the teardown with their cell phones, then emailing the photos to their school files, Clement said. Then the students used the photos in a PowerPoint presentation for the class.