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School board policy tackles cyberbullying.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

With incidents of mean-spirited Internet harassment, rumor-mongering and pranks on the rise, the Eugene School Board on Wednesday adopted a new policy setting clear rules against so-called cyberbullying.

The move comes as a bill demanding that all districts do just that works its way through the Oregon Legislature. After sailing through the House earlier this month, House Bill 2637 is before a Senate committee.

But the district was on track to adopt the policy well before the Legislature took up the issue, said Les Moore, computer information services director.

"I think there's quite a bit of it going on," said Moore, who has been researching the issue for nine months. "When I brought the cyberbullying policy to the various principal groups, there was always some story that occurred at one of their schools. And where that line is - what's at home and what's at school - is difficult."

The policy defines cyber-bullying as the use of any electronic communication device to convey a message in any form - text, image, audio or video - that amounts to discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying.

Cracking down on bullying is relatively easy when it's happening in the schoolyard or the girls' bathroom. But when it originates on a student's home computer or cell phone and winds up in cyberspace, it's trickier. The key, Moore explained, is whether the action disrupts the school's educational climate.

While it will still be up to the discretion of administrators to determine when an Internet communication crosses that line and becomes the school's business, they said having a policy to point to will help.

"I'm thrilled that they're putting it in policy because that gives us something to teach to and a tool for holding students accountable," said North Eugene High School Campus Administrator Laurie Henry, who estimates that she deals with such incidents once or twice a month.

It's a safe bet that all middle and high schools have grappled with cyberbullying, but North Eugene had one of the most high-profile. In December 2005, two students posted on a MySpace.com page offensive and threatening remarks and drawings directed against minorities. The students also made references to a particular black student who, though he was not named, would have been identified easily by many students, according to administrators. They determined that the action directly affected the school environment, and - under a more general harassment and bullying policy - disciplined the pair.

Henry said students are often surprised that administrators are able to access such communication and often track down the perpetrators.

`They think, `If I say outrageous things on a computer, it's not the same as saying them out loud,' ' she said. "As educators, we have a huge obligation to explain harassment, to explain threatening remarks and to explain to kids that the world has changed and we will be taking action on those kinds of things."

Roosevelt Middle School Principal Morley Hegstrom said cyberbullying is prevalent among younger teens, too, noting that students find easy ways to get around the MySpace rule that users be at least 14.

"The two main sources (of cyberbullying) are on their MySpace accounts - and kids will say horrible things on their MySpace pages and do things to other kids' accounts - and then there's less-sophisticated strategies like nasty e-mails," she said.

Teachers and administrators also can find themselves victims of cyberbullying. Hegstrom cited an incident in which a student teacher left her e-mail open on her computer and students sent a prank message from her account. Moore recalled students at one school creating a false MySpace page for an administrator.

With the new policy, administrators will have something specific to point to, and cyberbullying will for the first time be included in the district's Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, which is distributed to all students.

Many Oregon districts already have adopted cyberbullying policies. Bethel added cyberbullying to its general bullying and harassment policy last fall. Springfield's school board is poised to follow suit in the fall, spokesman Jeff DeFranco said.

Unlike those districts, Eugene opted to create a separate policy dealing with cyberbullying, which makes reference to the broader policy. Moore said the district's legal counsel advised to go that route.

Also on Wednesday, the board added hazing to the bullying and harassment policy, a move recommended after an incident earlier this year at Churchill in which several freshman players on a sports team had their heads shaved by older teammates. Principal Dennis Biggerstaff said it appeared that the freshmen gave their consent, but that didn't make it right.

"Coaches were kind of aware of it and kind of thought it was OK and the kids agreed, but it's not OK," said Biggerstaff, noting that some parents were upset and a couple of freshmen later acknowledged that they were, too.

Biggerstaff said hazing involving freshmen used to be fairly commonplace.

"It's something schools used to kind of blink at and allow to happen, but I think for the most part we've squashed that," he said. "But it can still pop up."
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Title Annotation:Schools; The Eugene district focuses on Internet discrimination, harassment and intimidation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 7, 2007
Words:841
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