Monday, April 23 , 2018, 4:42 am | Fog/Mist 54º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara School District Fighting Back Against Cyber Bullying

Despite putting on presentations and mailing out fliers, Superintendent Brian Sarvis fears many cases continue to go unreported

Children have been bullying one another for generations. Past generations were often taught to be thick-skinned and withstand the abuse. But now, anyone can use technology to expand the reach and extent of their harm.

“Something that has changed in this decade is our willingness to name it and talk about it openly,” said Alena Marie, program manager for Just Communities. “Before people said, ‘Kids will be kids, that happens.’ But now we understand the deadly consequences of hate crimes.”

Cyber bullying is the willful and repeated harm on others inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices. Instant messaging and message boards allow anonymity and give hurtful comments or information a seemingly infinite viral audience.

“What amazes me is how some people go to extremes, like assuming someone’s identity and posting hateful things,” said Brian Sarvis, superintendent of the Santa Barbara School District. “Anonymity diffuses the responsibility in the more face -to-face interactions. Some incidents are so cruel; they are beyond what you would imagine.”

While no severe cases have been reported in the district, Sarvis said he suspected Santa Barbara is similar to the norm, and that unfortunately, many go unreported.

“That’s the big problem — people won’t say anything and just tough it out,” Sarvis said.

The Santa Barbara School District has put on many presentations on cyber bullying and recently mailed out fliers to spur parental involvement in students’ online presence, Sarvis said.

“The best lessons are to be learned from what’s happening across the entire nation, the stories we’ve heard of kids being bullied and committing suicide,” he said. “It’s probably the worst thing you could imagine.”

Jessica Logan, 18, hanged herself after an ex-boyfriend distributed a nude photo of her via text message in 2008. Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl who was threatened by six students via texts and Facebook for dating an older high school football player, hanged herself in January of last year.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Marie said. “I want people to understand this isn’t a new problem. In 1989, the leading cause of death was suicide for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. Twenty-two years later, we see a series of suicides that provoked national attention. This is a change in willingness to have national conversation, and my hope is that’s a good thing.”

Ryan Halligan, 13, took his life in 2003 after suffering years of bullying.

“It’s one thing to be bullied and humiliated in front of a few kids,” Halligan’s father, John, wrote in a blog called Ryan’s Story. “It’s one thing to feel rejection and have your heart crushed by a girl. But it has to be a totally different experience than a generation ago when these hurts and humiliation are now witnessed by a far larger, online adolescent audience.”

A study performed by the Cyberbullying Research Center surveyed a random sample of 4,441 youths ages 10 to 18 from a large school district in the southern United States. Information was collected from 37 schools in February 2010.

About 20 percent of the students in the sample reported experiencing cyber bullying. When asked about specific types of cyber bullying in the previous 30 days, 13.7 percent had received hurtful comments. A little less than 13 percent reported having rumors about them spread online, the most commonly cited. Seventeen percent of the sample reported being cyber bullied in one or more of the nine types reported, two or more times over the course of the previous 30 days.

“Be friends on Facebook with your kids,” Sarvis recommended to deter or stop cyber bullies. “You can learn a lot about what kids are doing. Some parents set that as a prerequisite for their kids having an account.”

Lynn Rodriguez, who served on the Santa Barbara school board and is San Marcos High School’s representative for the Parent Advisory Committee, said bullying is a systemic cultural problem evident in online commentary.

“Look at what people write on blogs and newspaper articles where you can see how many people are so gutless through anonymity,” she said. “The district will do what it can, but we as a society need to deal with the deeper-rooted problem.”

The LGBTQ community is one of the most targeted, Marie said. The Pacific Pride Foundation and Just Communities conducted a survey of high school students — both straight and LGBTQ — from both North County and South Coast schools in 2010.

“What I get from that is how much it reflects national data — what’s going on nationally is happening locally,” Marie said.

One-third of the students reported experiencing bullying at least once during the past year based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Nearly 90 percent heard anti-LGBT slurs at least once a week. When students cast anti-LGBT insults, 47 percent reported that a teacher or administrator never stepped in.

“We do a lot of training with teachers who mean well, but aren’t sure how to intervene or don’t feel comfortable doing so,” Marie said.

Only 4 percent of students reported that their teachers or administrators always step in.

“Until we break the code of silence, we’re not able to make changes necessary to make people safe,” Marie said. “It requires open and honest dialogue, and that’s been hard.”

But there are ways to open the dialogue, and it often starts with the parents. Tips for managing your child’s online presence:

» Ask them to take you places they frequently visit and show you what they do.

» Have them share with you all of their user account names and passwords, only to be used in case of an emergency.

» Study their profile pages and the information they share.

» Talk to your children about the dangers of “sexting” and the public nature of the Internet.

» Establish clear and enforceable guidelines on Internet use.

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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