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Schools are on alert for cyberbullying

DALLAS -- Your child's cell phone or social networking account may be a tool for bullies, and the state has created school policy to address it.

More and more students are being bullied through electronic means -- cell phones, e-mail and web networks.

Photo illustration by Adam Korst

More and more students are being bullied through electronic means -- cell phones, e-mail and web networks.

June 17, 2008

DALLAS -- Your child's cell phone or social networking account may be a tool for bullies, and the state has created school policy to address it.

At a recent Dallas School Board meeting, Michael Beck, assistant principal at Dallas High School, presented new legislation that addresses cyberbullying in Oregon schools.

"We're not looking to police one more thing," Beck said. "It's less about policing and more about making kids feel safe at school."

According to the state, "cyberbullying means the use of any electronic communication device to harass, intimidate or bully" that interferes with learning. Students will see consequences if caught bullying on or immediately adjacent to school grounds, at an official school bus stop, on school-provided transportation or at any school-sponsored activity.

Bullying would have the effect of physically harming a student or his or her property, knowingly placing a student or his or her property in reasonable fear of physical harm, or creating a hostile learning environment, according to ORS 339.351.

Beck said the cyberbullying policy is essentially the same as Oregon's school harassment policy, and will be in place the first day of school in the fall. He said the state adding the legislation emphasizes it as an issue in schools.

"There have been a few deaths related to cyber harassment and bullying (across the nation), and those are unexcusably tragic," Beck said.

So far, Beck said he had seen 12 to 15 cases of cyberbullying this past school year, and Steve Spencer, La Creole Middle School principal, said he had seen one.

Beck said cyberbullying cases he has dealt with have involved students name-calling one another through text messages or spreading rumors on social networking sites like Myspace or Facebook.

He said it is a lot easier to say inappropriate things to others through the Web or texting than to someone's face, making harassment feel safer for the offender.

"Kids just get carried away, especially (in) the no-man's land of the cyber world," Beck said.

He said students often think the bullying will simply stop, and are hesitant to seek help from parents, school principals and counselors. Some students just hit delete and never report the incident at all.

"I imagine it's a much bigger issue then we realize," Beck said.

Alycia Keating, a senior-to-be at Dallas High, said spreading gossip and making mean comments on Myspace and through texting happens all the time. It is just part of teenage drama.

"If they don't say it to you in person, then they'll say it over the Internet," Keating said. "It happens to everybody."

She said she has been affected personally, but not on a level where she felt she needed to delete her Myspace account or change her phone number. In the past, she said she has simply ignored the harassment or confronted the offender.

Spencer said students guilty of cyberbullying that has disrupted the learning environment will be handled under the harassment policy, with punishment ranging from school suspension to expulsion.

Cyberbullying is also evolving with technology, Beck said.

He said of the six to eight cases he dealt with two years ago, most involved Myspace. This year, he said most cases involved text messaging most likely because students have better control over their Myspace friends and profiles with security settings and more kids have cell phones.

If a student is being bullied, Beck said he or she should tell parents, school principals or counselors.