Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Bullying Takes on New Face with Tech Schools: It's Harder to Track

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Bullying Takes on New Face with Tech Schools: It's Harder to Track

Article excerpt

Bullying in school is hardly a new problem, but in many cases today, it doesn't look like it once did. It's gone high-tech, enabling children to target one another through Facebook, Twitter, email, instant messaging and text messaging, in addition to face- to-face.

In the process, anti-bullying has become a national movement of sorts, with celebrities such as Lady Gaga joining the cause.

Local schools universally condemn bullying and cite initiatives aimed at changing behaviors. Several of them have brought in speakers on the topic and are working on anti-bullying curriculum.

But despite this renewed emphasis, it's still impossible to know how frequently bullying occurs in schools - at least in Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Education requires school districts to have an anti-bullying policy. However, no statistics are kept. School districts are required to report expulsions or suspensions, but how many of those instances are tied to bullying is either unclear or subject to interpretation.

Bullying also is difficult to track because, in the era of smartphones and cyberspace, officials must decide whether the act occurs on or off school property and when is the appropriate time to intervene.

That's a case of trial and error.

"It used to be that when you left school, you were safe from this," said Gary Green, director of student service for the Indiana Department of Education. "This is a new era. Kids will tell you they heard a 'ping' on their computer at 3 in the morning and they have to get up and see what it was.

"The common denominator is that both (students who send and receive such communications) go to school," said Green, who described the advent of social media as a "gamechanger."

Digital devices make it easier for students from different schools to target one another. And many schools today put computers in students' hands for learning purposes. It's a nod to the inevitability of technology, but it opens up the possibility of misuse.

"It's a cloudy line between when the netbook is at school and the netbook is at home," said Marcia Staser, student support coordinator for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. "It is a problem, and kids have a hard time realizing that once they send something out, they can't take it back. And, what you say at one school can end up at another school just like that.

"One hundred and fifty kids might have a message that was sent out in 5 seconds."

Websites such as Facebook can make young people already inclined to bully a peer even more fearless, educators said.

"It becomes a lot more easy to say what you feel on these social websites. It's not face-to-face," Warrick County School Corp. Brad Schneider said. "They sometimes are meaner, nastier and use hateful words, not realizing the damage that they can do."

The technological advances, then, are forcing school districts to rethink approaches to bullying, despite an absence of statistical data and the unknown factor of where technology is heading.

Bullying, as defined by the state Department of Education, means "overt, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal or written communications transmitted, physical acts committed, or any other behaviors committed by a student or group of students against another student with the intent to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimate or harm the other student."

Staser said an important and sometimes overlooked word in that definition is "repeated." A hazing incident, for example - such as the locker room video incident this winter involving the Henderson County High School boys basketball team - is not considered bullying if it is a one-time act.

"It seems like we have some students, parents and even teachers who think that someone rolling their eyes is bullying," Staser said. "They mix mean, rude behavior with bullying. Now, mean and rude behavior can turn into bullying. …

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