District policy revised to account for cyberbullying

Haley Sandlow and Eli Traub, Opinions Editor and Page Editor

A high school student was pushed up against a locker. He was punched *in the arm. He was slapped on the side of his head. Decades ago, he was one of many victims of physical bullying. Yet today, the landscape of bullying has changed.

“I truly think we have a really good school and students who, when they do see something, come and say things, which helps tremendously,” said William Eike, assistant principal and dean of students. “But the thing we deal with often is that social media component.”

Russell Sabella, professor and director of the school counseling program at Florida Gulf Coast University, defined cyberbullying as intentional, repetitive harm online. If something offensive or harmful is posted once and is then shared by others, it is considered to be repetitive and is therefore defined as cyberbullying.

According to school social worker Patrick Wagner, the best thing someone can do if they are being bullied is to “disengage.” In terms of cyberbullying, that means not responding to messages online.

Wagner said nowadays, bullying occurs most often on social media. With social media, bullies can be discreet and deceptive about their identity while hurting more people than they could physically.

“It’s like road rage,” said Wagner. “There is a higher level of people being aggressive than would normally be aggressive because of the anonymity.”

According to Sabella, there are five things a school must do to prevent cyberbullying. Teachers and counselors must integrate training about bullying into classes throughout the year. Schools must train parents about cyberbullying so they may set boundaries and consequences for their children. Students must help each other, for example, by conducting presentations or participating in initiatives to help targeted kids. Schools must have simple, easy means of reporting bullying that do not impose any consequences on the student making the report and comprehensive policies for cyberbullying.

A good school policy must be comprehensive. It must define cyberbullying, designate consequences of cyberbullying and outline provisions for reporting, educating and retaliating against cyberbullying. Schools must also educate students and parents about their policies, Sabella said.

Glenbrook High School District #225 is currently in the process of updating its board policy on hazing, bullying and aggressive behavior. The current policy, which was adopted in 2005, defines hazing, bullying and aggressive behavior. It refers to an additional policy outlining consequences following violations of the policy, which include referrals, suspension or expulsion.

According to Superintendent Charles Johns, “The goal is to have [the revised policy] ready for the Nov. 12 [Board of Education] meeting,” where the board will approve the new policy or suggest revisions. The draft of the policy, which has not yet been approved, adheres to state statute changes. It  encompasses cyberbullying in its definition of bullying and lists what cyberbullying consists of. It includes that “transmission of information from [any] school or non-school device regardless of where accessed is within the jurisdiction [of the school] when the bullying case is brought to an administrator or staff member.” The parents and guardians of all parties in the investigation must be contacted and given information about the investigation and an opportunity to meet with a school administrator, a practice already implemented but has only now been specified in the policy. The school must make reasonable efforts to investigate within 10 days after an incident is brought to their attention. Every two years, in addition to reviewing all district policies, the Board of Education must evaluate data points specific to bullying such as frequency of victimization, observation, areas of the school, types of bullying and bystander intervention. There is also “an emphasis on restorative measures,” which includes working with social workers and counselors to help bullies and victims talk through the situation.

“I’m hoping we do some communication along with [this policy] too so that it just gives someone a little more caution so they don’t … try to hurt someone this way,” Johns said.

There are multiple resources available at Glenbrook North for students involved in or dealing with bullying, such as social workers, psychologists, the dean’s office, the student’s counselor and Police Liaison John Seiler. Other resources include Text-a-Tip and a drop box in student services where students can make anonymous reports about people involved with bullying.

Johns said he thinks the district is being much wiser in how they handle bullying.

“We have people working really hard to respond to bullying, and hopefully these are some tools they can use to have satisfactory outcomes,” Johns said.