Online bullying at school: What is being done?

PLYMOUTH — Now that many Marshall County students have school-issued laptop computers, school officials are looking seriously into how to deal with bullying that occurs online.
“We are investigating programs that will detect threats made on social media at school,” said Plymouth Community School Corporation superintendent Daniel Tyree. “We want to use the one that we think will be the most effective.”
Tyree said that Plymouth principals are becoming more aware of the need to regularly check student’s computers to ensure threats are not being made.
“In the beginning, our principals were not savvy about how to do that, but they are getting a lot better at going in and checking to see what students are writing on the computer,” said Tyree.
He added that one principal is checking a specific student’s computer every two days.
Oregon-Davis High School recently hosted anti-bullying expert Michael Dorn to speak to students on the issue.
“Twelve to 18 percent of severely bullied students never report it. Why do so many of us stand by and watch?” Dorn asked the students.
For parents who feel that their children are being bullied at school, whether in person or through a computer, options do exist.
“The complaint should be brought to a principal, assistant principal, or the superintendent,” said Tyree. “Once the accusation is made, the administrator will put it in writing and investigate the issue. Both the students and the parents will be brought together to help solve the problem.”
The difference between traditional bullying and the online version is that bullying online can usually be traced to the offender. On social networking websites, posts carry a time and date along with the poster’s name. Tyree added that while some parents ask that the student’s names be kept confidential, that is not possible if the incident involves a student’s safety.
“We have parents who report bullying but then ask us to do nothing about it,” said Tyree. “That can’t happen anymore. Once bullying has been reported, state law requires that we investigate it.”
The usual process of meeting with the students and their parents changes if a bullying threat involves weapons, drugs, or another illegal activity, added Tyree. In that case, the school will immediately contact the police.
“(School officials) are not trained to deal with guns or weapons,” said Tyree. “That’s when we turn it over to the police and it becomes a police issue. The school and the police are going to work together.”
The one thing that should’t happen, said Tyree, is looking the other way when it comes to bullying.
“My biggest plea is to ask parents parents to communicate with school administrators promptly,” said Tyree. “If they find something on a computer, (they should) take the computer away from their son or daughter and bring it directly to the principal to show the actual bullying.”
Dorn told OD students that victims of bullying are not merely people involved in a conflict with another person. But instead, they are sought out and victimized by someone who feels powerful terrorizing someone else.
“Bullying involves victimization,” said Dorn. “It’s not conflict between people. It’s a person or group who feels they have more power than another person or group. It tends to be repeated behavior.”
“The realization that we are going to have to come to is that kids at some times bully other people or get bullied themselves,” said Tyree. “Parents need to be prepared to get that phone call.”

Correspondent Noelle Patrick contributed to this article.