This is from the June 13, 2012 edition. Subscribers read this a week ago in the dead tree version. Click here to subscribe.
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
Local teens who use the internet to bully or harass others may find themselves in trouble with their school.
The Northern Humboldt Union High School District is adopting a policy that prohibits “harassing, teasing, intimidating, threatening or terrorizing another student or staff member by way of any technological tool, such as sending an inappropriate or derogatory email message, telephone message, instant message, test message, digital picture or image or website posting including a… blog.”
Students are prohibited from accessing social networking sites while using school computers, and the school district is blocking access to such sites “to the extent possible.”
The two-page long policy was part of a lengthy packet of related policies prohibiting other types of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination.
Language was added that also makes bullying prohibited even if it occurs outside the regular school day if it subsequently affects school activities or school attendance.
Superintendent Kenny Richards said that students at all three of the district’s high schools had been victimized by “social drama” created by the inappropriate use of cell phones.
“It created a problem at the school,” he added. “Sometimes cyberbullying has to be addressed at the school level even though it happens outside.”
Asked how the administration could enforce behavior that occurs when school is not in session, Richards said that his role was to act as a peacemaker.
“You have to bring people together and say ‘You can’t say that about Sarah,’” he said. “If there’s a veiled threat, then it goes to a different level. You may have to use a counselor; maybe notify parents that somebody threatened your son or daughter over the phone.”
“It’s saying that any student who feels he’s harassed should immediately contact somebody,” commented board member Colleen Toste. “Or anybody that observes an incident.”
Board member Mike Pigg said that he had heard of students being verbally abused on cellphones and abused on Facebook.
Richardson added that threats could be reported to the Sheriff’s office if they occurred outside the school.
“We only want to get involved when it impacts the school,” commented Chris Hartley, the principal of Six Rivers Charter School. “If things come onto the school site that occurred on Facebook, now you’re disrupting the school environment.
“It’s the same as when kids used to call each other on the phone and have arguments on the phone on the landline, and come to school and the argument continues,” Hartley said. “You still have the responsibility to try to work it out, from the school’s’ perspective.”
“It’s evolving, and case law is being formed around it as we speak,” he added.
Unlike a private landline argument between two people, digital communications can easily be replicated and spread over a wide online community.
The board did not take any formal action on the policies.
The proposed policies will re-appear on the agenda at the board’s next meeting on June 26, satisfying a legal requirement for new policies to be “read” at two different meetings before adoption.
If the school district fails to adopt the cyberbullying policy before July 1, it could lose a 60 percent discount from Universal Services Schools and Libraries, an organization which subsidizes the cost of internet access to schools and libraries.
Northern Humboldt Union High School District policies already forbid discrimination or harassment based on gender, ethnicity, race, national origin, religion, color, disability, age, or sexual orientation.
The McKinleyville Union Elementary School District does not yet have an anti-bullying policy in place but is planning to adopt one in August.