Schools Take Proactive Stance Against Cyberbullying
School officials are using videos and presentations to educate students this fall.
Recent teen suicides linked to cyberbullying have made nationwide news and, as a result, state legislatures, school officials and parents have been pushed to pursue tougher laws and regulations.
Cyberbullying — bullying through the means of texting, instant messaging, e-mailing and social media sites like Facebook — even has the attention of President Barack Obama, who recently posted a message on the White House website voicing the detrimental impact of bullying and the importance of keeping children safe.
Locally, the impact is seen in the way schools are putting more of an emphasis on educating students about the sometimes tragic results of bullying, and updating policies to include online bullying.
Stacy Holland, director of community relations of Lincoln-Way High School District 210, said school officials are taking the issue of cyberbullying seriously and said there is a strict policy in the district's handbook that includes cyberbullying.
"We really are taking a proactive stance on this issue," she said.
Holland said the district is putting together a video educating students about the consequences of cyberbullying. It will also have resources that students can use if they feel that they are victims of this type of bullying.
The video will be viewed by all students as early as next month, and will be updated and shown every school year.
Administrators at New Lenox School District 122 are also taking the matter seriously. They have posted a cyberbullying resource section on the district website, and last month brought a speaker to discuss his son's tragedy as a result of being bullied.
District 122 spokeswoman Jenny Zimmerman said students at Martino Junior High School listened to John Halligan, of Vermont, who lost his son to suicide in 2003. At the time of his death, Ryan was a student at a middle school in Essex Junction, Vermont and was being bullied by students online.
Parents from both Martino and Liberty junior high schools were also encouraged to hear Halligan speak, and Zimmerman said the story hit home for students.
"It could have been anyone in that room," she said about the assembly hall that the discussion took place. "It really makes you think about your actions."
Zimmerman said the district takes every bullying case seriously and is rigorous about implementing anti-bullying campaigns.
And as a result of new state legislation, students in District 122 will participate in a formal Internet Safety Curriculum that includes the dangers and consequences of cyberbullying.
The new state legislation, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in July, expands the Illinois School Code's bullying policy to include cyberbullying.
The state school code prohibits bullying communication via written or electronic media, such as text-messaging, e-mail or social networking websites. It also makes schools responsible for educating students, parents and personnel about what qualifies as bullying.
"Our message to students is that there is help out there," Holland said. "They don't have to feel like they're in this by themselves."