School heads called parents in cyberbully case

Harassment occurred off campus so jurisdiction unclear, officials say

In a recent incident in which local teens "cyberbullied" a fellow Palo Alto student, school district officials said they helped remove the offending website and notified the parents of "six or eight" perpetrators who are students at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.

The bullying occurred over the weekend of Feb. 28, when some students created a Facebook "I Hate..." group targeting another student. The Internet group quickly gained up to 100 members and included vicious comments against the student as well as some posts in the student's defense. School district officials, who learned of the activity over the weekend, helped remove the Facebook group early on Monday, March 2.

The episode has sparked intense parent discussion and community discussion about the proper role of the school district in the incident, which apparently did not involve school computers.

District Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence said there was "a tremendous amount of discussion" among principals and administrators about what to do in the case because the incident occurred off campus and did not involve school property.

"It puts us in a little bit of a space where we don't have specific jurisdiction for that," Laurence said.

Current school district policies on harassment and student behavior clearly cover incidents that happen on school campuses or are school-related, he said.

Postings on the "I Hate..." group came from communities outside Palo Alto as well as from students within, Laurence noted.

"The parents of the students that were identified by the school as being involved were called and told it was inappropriate," he said.

"But when you start talking about absolutes or 'do we know exactly' (who was involved) the answer is 'no.' There were postings from San Francisco, Millbrae and other places."

"The (offending) students actually didn't know how to take (the "I Hate" group) down, so our staff helped them," Laurence said. Beyond notifying parents and helping to remove the postings, the district took no further discipline, he said.

A new law that took effect January 1 gives schools authority to suspend or expel students for bullying fellow students over the internet, in text messaging or by other electronic means.

"So why hasn't PAUSD acted, even after this law came into effect?" wrote one participant in the Silicon Valley Moms Blog. "We're in Silicon Valley for God's sake--this is where technological innovation happens!"

Other parents called for the perpetrators' expulsion or publication of their names so that college admissions officer would be aware of their involvement. Several bloggers also said Facebook should have taken action in the incident.

Others said no school district involvement was needed since the bullying occurred off campus and school officials already "have enough on their plates."

Laurence said he is updating the school district's policies and procedures to reflect new state laws on cyberbullying, disruptive behavior and harassment.

Simon Axten of Facebook's Privacy and Public Policy section said, "We take this issue very seriously and encourage people to report content that singles out and attacks an individual or group."

Axten pointed out Facebook links for reporting troublesome content. "Our User Operations team will review the content and remove it if it violates our policies," he said.

Laurence and others noted the district and PTA have cooperated extensively in recent years to bring anti-bullying programs to the schools and to integrate anti-bullying education into the curriculum.

"The issue of bullying in general has been a pretty high priority on the radar screen, particularly at the elementary levels amongst principals," said school board Chair Barb Mitchell.

The PTAs have sponsored a wide array of anti-bullying programs and invited a Facebook representative to speak to Paly parents, according to Dan Dykwel, president of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs.

"Often it's self-regulating," Dykwel said of online discussions. "If somebody posts something nasty, kids descend on them and say, 'Stop this.'"

Cyberbullying is a form of hazing, Dykwel said.

"It's all the same thing—just a different form. Now, when you see the kids so empowered at such a young age with these different tools—when 10 year olds in the grocery store are texting—it's a whole different challenge to model appropriate behavior."

Related material:

o Editorial: Facebook must face up to 'cyber-bullying'

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Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2009 at 7:59 pm

It's beyond me why an assistant principal at Paly would call police and suspend students when freshmen are being egged/water ballooned as part of freshman friday and then wait hours/days to take a stand regarding cyber-bullying only after a public parental outcry. The hypocrisy in this town and school district astounds me.

Like this comment
Posted by a Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 9, 2009 at 8:13 pm

I think the difference here is that a specific child was singled out publicly and by name, and the other children were identifiable. If a lot of kids egged only one specific kid, that would be a more serious issue than random eggings and balloonings, though that's troubling enough.

Like this comment
Posted by Confused, again
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2009 at 9:10 pm

"wait hours/days to take a stand regarding cyber-bullying only after a public parental outcry."

Huh? The incident began on a weekend and school officials began dealing with it Monday morning. How much faster could they have responded?

Like this comment
Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 10, 2009 at 12:00 am

"Confused, again" - you shouldn't be confused. There's a certain element around here who will post whenever something bad happens and use it as pretext for badmouthing every public servant or employee or organization out there. They seem to want some perfect world where nothing goes wrong. They imagine infallible humans in 100% efficient organizations that would anticipate and prevent every conceivable ill, without overstepping their bounds of course.

So, yes, in that world, when you begin addressing a work-related problem the moment you arrive at work, it's too late.

Like this comment
Posted by Cheryl Erber
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 10, 2009 at 10:24 am

The group didn't start itself. Someone with a Facebook account started the group and that person ought to be punished in a way that sends a message to others that this type of activity won't be accepted here.

Like this comment
Posted by L
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 10, 2009 at 10:26 am

I think schools should get involved when a group/kid from their school cyber-bully another student. How many kids have been pushed to the brink of suicide. It has sooooo....often been noted that a physical injury will heal, but how long does it take for the mind heal. Kids can be cruel and eventhough parents may say my child is not involved in an incident of such, just repeating what is said to others, laughing at the student being bullied they do become a part of the bulling, wheither intentionally or not.
So... parents, who say the school should not get involved ask yourself, what if it were your child or what if your child pushed another child to the brink of taking their own life. And yes, it can become just that serious.
Truly think about it.

Like this comment
Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2009 at 11:51 am

Freshman friday is something a lot of kids look forward to. A rite of passage. Heck, they know about it in 8th grade! "I hate...blah blah blah" is just cruel harassment.

Like this comment
Posted by kc
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 10, 2009 at 11:52 am

i too believe the person who started the post on facebook should face the harshest punishment. Doesn't facebook moniter these things as well?

Like this comment
Posted by YouShouldKnow
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2009 at 12:00 pm

One thing I don't understand is why any of these social networking sites don't use word, or at least phrase filters. Those kind of filters are in place on plenty of message boards. They could plug that in, then have the submission await moderator approval. Last night KTVU said Facebook is the largest networking site in the world. If they need extra manpower out there to do the moderating or troll sites for over the top postings, hire somebody...or two. It would help protect Facebook from liability and would give employment to some lucky person. Also maybe protect some kid out there. Win/win/win as I see it.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm

When I was a Paly student, getting locked in the locker cages, surprise saran wrapping, and perhaps being Kryptonite locked in the library were rites of passage but dreaded. There were accepted by students as being inevitable but not condoned by the administration. Perpetrators were punished and why should the person who started the Facebook group be treated any less harshly? Harassment of an entire class of freshman or a single individual is not to ever be tolerated and should be punished.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 10, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I don't know, maybe the parents of the kids participating in this should have to attend a mandatory "parenting course" - I bet it wouldn't happen again. It is not up to the schools it is up to the parents.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2009 at 3:50 pm

This starts with "local teens "cyberbullied" a fellow Palo Alto student" but I had thought that the kids who started the Facebook page didn't actually know the other student, only saw him in a YouTube video? This seems different than bullying a "fellow student", i.e., a person with whom you are acquainted and actually see face-to-face. I'm not saying it's any less painful for the targeted child, but the fact that the bullies didn't actually know the child seems like an important piece of information.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Perhaps the individual who started the group and the sheep who followed suit should have no more access to Facebook. Anyway we were told at a meeting with the Paly prinicpal recently that online activity, specifically on Facebook DOES fall under jurisdiction of the school district even if it happens off campus because Facebook is used in the curriculum. Bullying is bullying and if the connection between these students is because they go to school together it is the responsibility of the school and parents to stop the bullying. My children know we have zero tolerance for such behavior before they can even turn on a computer. How difficult is that? As for the victim of this. I hope he or she is getting support and help and will receive apologies and restitution from all involved. I find it disturbing that we have adults in our community who take a laissez faire approach to things like egging and water balloon attacks. Again it is up to the school district to publicize its policies ahead of time clearly and concisely in order to prevent the behavior, and then to follow up with the discipline. When this happened at Paly last fall, the students who participated were blindsided by the violence of faculty response because of the many years the tradition had gone on with little response.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Escondido School
on Mar 10, 2009 at 5:08 pm

IM a high school student and i am seriously taken by suprise.
yes, cyber bullying is a problem, but my no means on the same scale as PHYSICAL bullying. I believe some of you parents lack priority skills, and you focus too much on the small things. THIS REALLY WASN'T a BIG DEAL FOLKS. its something called OVERREACTING and taking things to teh extreme. Although i didn't participate in this facebook group, i believe you people are just TOO much seriously. There are people there being beaten and taken drugs and your attacking a FACEBOOK GROUP? wow, im impressed. You're probably focused on this facebook group because its the ONLY thing within ur reach to pick on, the most minute and unimportant things.

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