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Cyberbullying thrives through today’s technology

Physical threats can lead to criminal investigations, officer says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Bullying has taken on a new form since the explosion in popularity of texting, smart phones and social networking websites like Facebook, Myspace and Formspring. Auburn students regularly cyberbully each other. And for many, it has become a part of life they feel like they have to endure. In a 2010 study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center of 4,441 students in a school district in the southern United States, 20.8 percent of students said they had been cyberbullied in their lifetimes. Placer High School Principal Peter Efstathiu said while cyberbullying is always an issue he doesn’t feel it’s a major concern at the school right now. “I don’t think it’s something that’s on the forefront for us right now,” Efstathiu said. Efstathiu said he recognizes that hurtful words can spread like wildfire in today’s technological world, and he thinks students sometimes forget how much cyber words can affect others. “I think that taking responsibility for their actions, their common sense, has gone out the window for some reason,” he said. “Maybe because they are not talking to that person face to face, they don’t realize the consequences of their actions. The problem the kids don’t realize is even when you are doing something outside school … you are making an environment for that student on campus that is disruptive.” Randy Ittner, principal of E.V. Cain Charter School, said the school deals with cyberbullying every couple of months, but it’s not a huge issue. “We try to teach kids to come to us before something major happens,” Ittner said. Placer High junior Jamie Schlenker, 16, said she was recently bullied through anonymous posts on a social networking site. “I have an account on this site called Formspring, and what it was is I got cheated on by my ex, and someone was just like, ‘You need to let him go,’ and started cussing me out,” Schlenker said. “People are harsh. People are very harsh. Then they were saying my (Placer High Hillmen Messenger newspaper) articles suck.” Schlenker said she didn’t mention the posts to Placer High staff, because she didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. However, if someone made a serious threat toward her, she would bring it up. “I would, yeah,” she said. “Even though I might be considered wimpy, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to get into a fight.” Junior Hannah Burgard said she has gotten anonymous messages on Formspring from people saying they hope she dies. “When you get it, you are kind of just like, ‘Oh, there is someone out there who hates me,’” Burgard said. “It’s a blow even though it’s no one you know. I try to not let it affect me. I try to just let it pass me by and not let it affect me in my normal life, but, truly, it does affect you.” Sophomore Courtney McArthur, 15, said she thinks there is an obvious reason why someone might choose to cyberbully on a website. “It’s easier to hide behind a computer,” McArthur said. “I have never really taken cyberbullying that personally, because it’s really impersonal.” Junior Allison Alvarez, 16, said she was cyberbullied when she was 12 and a sixth-grader at E.V. Cain. “I stopped being friends with this girl who was just a bad influence on me, and she got a couple of her friends to hate me,” Alvarez said. “On MSN they had a group chat room, and it was the two girls, and they were threatening to bully me at school, and I got scared about it. (The first girl) said if I came to school she would beat me up during recess, so during that day I hid in the bathroom at lunch.” Junior Alli Dunaway, 16, said she was also bullied in middle school. “I have been texted mostly and called,” Dunaway said. “A lot (was) during middle school. I went to Ophir. Everybody knew each other’s dirty little secrets.” Officer Dave Neher, who serves as Placer High’s school resource officer from the Auburn Police Department, said if a student alerts staff to a comment that has been made threatening them physically, and if the student feels the other person might carry out that threat, it becomes a criminal investigation. “At that point if they bring it to me, that falls under the penal code of criminal threats,” Neher said. Placer High Counselor Steve Prather said there have been a couple of cases that have been referred to Neher. Prather said school officials would immediately sit down with parents and the students involved to try to resolve any problem. According to Assistant Principal Gary Pantaleoni, bullying, including cyberbullying, is now in the state educational code as a suspendable offense. “We do work with the parents and the students,” Pantaleoni said. “We do look at putting kids on harassment contracts if it’s a low-level (offense). If it’s a severe level, we put them on that contract, but we also do suspend.” Ittner said E.V. Cain handles incidents in much the same way. Ittner said he thinks parents should always try to be aware of what their children are doing online and who their kids are talking and texting with, including getting their kids’ website passwords and checking their texts. “Yeah you want to give your kids freedom, but they don’t need that much freedom,” he said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------- Incidents involving bullying -A video was posted on the video-sharing site YouTube at the end of November. The video showed a Nevada Union High School student beating another, smaller student. A parent brought the video to the school’s attention, and it has been taken down from the site. A group of students could now be facing suspension or expulsion. Nevada Union High is in Grass Valley. -In 2009 Florida resident Hope Witsell, 13, hanged herself in her bedroom after a topless photograph of her circulated electronically through her high school and a neighboring high school, resulting in taunting from other students. -Tehachapi resident Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself in September after he was reportedly bullied for years about his sexuality. -Pennsylvania resident Brandon Bitner, 14, threw himself in front of a truck in November as a result of bullying possibly related to his sexuality.