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The Black And White Of Cyber Bullying
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In a day and age of social media, smart phones, cell phones and instant accessibility, students and parents alike may need to be more aware of the messages and words they choose to share.

At the recent Oakdale school board meeting, trustee Tina Shatswell asked Larry Mendonca, Assistant Superintendent Pupil Services & Facilities, to address the topic of cyber bullying and how it is handled by the district.

At the time Mendonca shared with the board that cyber bullying is both treated and viewed by the district the same as bullying that occurs in person. He later offered additional insight to The Leader in the way of what constitutes the offense and how it is addressed.

According to the Assistant Superintendent, Ed. Code 48900, subsection “S” references the following as to what would cause the district to act in a disciplinary manner: 1. While on school grounds; 2. While going to or coming from school; 3. During lunch period whether on or off campus and; 4. During or while going from a school sponsored activity.

The issue of cyber bullying is one not to be scoffed at by parent or student, officials said. The coming of technology and the potential for increased risk of such offense prompted to add a separate category specific to this on their website.

By definition outlines cyber bullying as “bullying that takes place using technology” and lists examples of that as: mean text messages or e-mails, rumors sent by e-mail or posted on social networking sites and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles.

The primary difference between this type of bullying versus the traditional verbal or physical bullying is that it can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week and reach students at any time. While messages and images may be posted anonymously making the source difficult to trace, deleting the inappropriate message is extremely difficult once they have been posted or saved. Text messages may be stored, images saved and printed, files created.

The critical piece is recognizing where and when it becomes an issue for the district versus one that must be handled separately. Hence the outlining of Ed Code 48900, subsection “S”.

Mendonca further expounded on the topic of defining ‘cyber bullying’ via e-mail correspondence, keeping it somewhat in alignment with bullying as a whole stating: “A definition of bullying in general includes any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act directed at another student that has or can reasonably have the effect of one or more of the following: Placing a reasonable student in fear of harm to that student’s person or property; experience substantial detrimental effect on their physical or mental health; experience substantial interference of their academic performance; and/or interference with their ability to participate or benefit from services, activities, or privileges at school.”

“Cyber bullying is held to the same standard but delivered by means of electronic communications,” Mendonca said.

As with any disciplinary action, Mendonca acknowledged that it is a case by case basis as to the severity of action or reprimand, stating that the determining factors depend on the severity, pervasiveness and harm taken by the student involved.

“While it is not believed to be a large problem within our school district, it is one addressed with seriousness all the same,” he said. “The district annually provides information at the beginning of each year to remind staff of the district’s Bullying Policy and expected intervention and referral procedures when witnessing or being informed of bullying occurring at school. While we are sympathetic and concerned with the ever evolving world of social media and means of electronic communications, schools cannot extend beyond its jurisdiction to monitor and act disciplinary upon students. There must be a nexus to school during the school day or school related activities.”