Friday, February 03, 2006

Combating Cyber-Bullying

Cyber-bullying occurs when students use the internet to threaten or ridicule their schoolmates. This is becoming all too commonplace. Schools in Eugene, Oregon, are doing what they can to confront this problem:
Eugene School District officials say they are learning how to deal with bullying that happens in cyberspace.

The issue arose in December, when two North Eugene students posted threatening remarks and drawings against minorities on the Web site, and referenced a black student, Principal Peter Tromba said.

While Internet bullying is a growing problem for schools across the country, this was the first time North Eugene had to deal with it, Tromba said.

"I didn't know what the heck to do," said Tromba, who alluded to the incident in his February newsletter to parents. "I kind of made it up as I went along."

Initially, Tromba said, it wasn't clear whether the school had a right to weigh in, given that the threats were posted while the students were off campus.

But when it became clear that the posting targeted a specific student, who had earlier complained of verbal harassment on campus, officials were able to act under policy relating to off-campus behavior that directly affects the environment at school.

The two students were disciplined last month.

Eugene School District officials are working with the city's police department and Human Rights Commission to more clearly define policies against bullying in cyberspace.

Tromba said he was shocked by the kind of images and information available on MySpace, which has more than 50 million users, most of them young people.

"As a parent I was just really blown away by the absolute lack of any kind of filter or quality control," he said.
Public schools have difficulty in fighting this new type of bullying because they have little or no control over what students do off-campus and with their own computers.
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