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Schools, parents fight cyberbullying

Posted: September 12, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 12, 2012 2:00 a.m.

With the advent of the new school year, it’s begun already: cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (as a student) often done anonymously, according to Merriam-Webster.

Cliff Miller, vice principal of Arroyo Seco Junior High School, says the problem is one faced not only by students, but also by teachers and administrators determined to stop it. And he urges parents to become involved in the fight against it.

Miller said Tuesday he spends hours looking into cyberbullying complaints — when they’re brought to him.

“We’ll try and find out and ask questions,” Miller said. “‘When did it happen? Can you show me what you’re looking at?’ Kids are usually very willing to show what happened.”

But a lot of the time, the incidents go unreported, said Karen Figueroa, the mother of a junior high student who was bullied through social media.

“It does happen quite often, but a lot of the girls don’t want to say anything, or they don’t want to be embarrassed or be a snitch,” Figueroa said.

A recent case, which is not necessarily isolated at Arroyo Seco, involves Instagram, a social media program that allows one to edit and share photos on smartphones.

Students reported that their accounts were being hacked into by other students, with obscene messages being posted regarding rude or sexually suggestive messages about a group of female students, according to a parent who wished to remain anonymous to avoid further bullying for her child.

After her daughter heard about the obscene messages on a fake page that was created in her daughter’s name — through a friend who goes to Valencia High — Figueroa said she contacted Instagram through email two weeks ago. Email was the only means she could find to contact Instagram, she said. But the page is still active.

“We try to be aware of what’s going on with kids, it’s just hard because with all of this wireless ... these kids are learning it faster than we are,” she said.

The case is currently being investigated by detectives, according to Sgt. Dean Curry of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Investigations into cybercrime can take significant time because there is often a lengthy subpeona process involved, Curry said.

While there’s often times a common thread and one or two students who will speak out to help school officials solve a case like this, the most recent case appears to have no such student link, Miller said.

Even though children can be very trusting and open, it’s important to also let them know some things need to be kept secret — such as social media passwords, Miller said.

“We’ll find quite often with junior high kids, relations can be very short-lived. They can be very good friends one week and then not the next,” Miller said. “An analogy would be sharing your locker combo.”

Schools work to provide an environment free of technological distractions, Miller said. And when the rules aren’t followed, violations of social media trust are likely to follow.

The Hart district also offers the Safe School Ambassador Program, a peer-mentoring effort, he said.

Sometimes, school officials will receive a report of a student’s social media account getting hacked, and the same day the child will be using the phone in the schoolyard, Miller said.

“We do so much to control what we’re doing here at school,” Miller said. “We know that kids have a camera on so many devices. We tell the kids from day one that that’s a no-no.”



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