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Schools attempt to curb cyberbullying

Staff writer

As bullying keeps pace with improvements in communication technology, area schools try to protect their students. But underreporting makes it difficult to stop the spread of threats and insults via cell phones and the Internet — a phenomenon called cyberbullying.

Administrators seldom hear about incidents of cyberbullying, but they deal with results — like yelling and fighting — Marion High School Principal Brenda Odgers said.

“I don’t think there’s any preventing it,” from an ability standpoint, she said.

Some character education lessons discourage the use of cyberbullying tactics, she added. The impersonal nature of text messages and online posts takes away some of the disincentive for bullying.

“You don’t have to face anybody,” Odgers said. “They can say awful, awful things without looking anyone in the eye. It just makes it too easy.”

But it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for the victims of bullying, Goessel school counselor Janna Duerksen said. It can hurt students self esteem.

Victims of cyberbullying may abruptly lose interest in school and become withdrawn. It can result in a victim’s grades dropping, and can make the student sad, angry, or scared, she said.

Most cyberbullying happens when students are not in school, Peabody-Burns Elementary School Principal Ken Parry said. But its consequences invariably affect schools.

Some parents’ reluctance to use computers or social networking sites can make it harder to discover cyberbullying, Centre Superintendent Jerri Kemble said. And oftentimes bystanders don’t stand up against perpetrators.

Parents should take care to know what is going on in their children’s social lives, Duerksen said. They should always take bullying seriously and not blame the victim, she said.

Hillsboro High School — with its one-to-one laptop program — has found it impossible to put up strong enough barriers to prevent a determined bully, Principal Max Heinrichs said.

When the school learns of cyberbullying, perpetrators can lose privileges and Web sites and applications can be filtered.

If the bullying is severe enough the school can involve law enforcement, he said.

A victim of cyberbullying should save any harassing text messages, e-mails, or online posts to document the problem, Marion Chief of Police Josh Whitwell said. That information makes addressing the problem much easier.

For a first incident, police will often talk with the perpetrator and let the person know the harassment is unacceptable.

If any future incidents occur, then the police have documentation, he said.

Last modified Jan. 20, 2010

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