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Cyberbullies face offline consequences

Schools, police address Internet issues

Area schools handle Internet issues differently. The Regional News recently asked officials their policies on certain topics. - Does the school have a cyberbullying policy? Districts in the area have different policies regarding cyberbullying. Williams Bay Junior and Senior High School Principal Dan Bice said the School Board recently approved an anti-cyberbullying policy. Last year, Walworth Elementary School Principal Pamela Larson said the School District implemented a cyberbullying policy to deal with issues that arise. Big Foot Principal Mike Hinske said the district doesn't have a cyberbullying policy, but addresses the issue in its bullying policy. - Can students use social networking sites at school? At Big Foot High School, social networking sites are blocked from students. However, that doesn't mean students can access these sites. "Students are very, very smart and work to bypass the filters," he said. While in the school, Larson said the policy is simple when it comes to students using Facebook and Myspace. "We tell them not to go on it," she said. - How can teachers interact with students online? Students aren't the only ones using social networking sites. How teachers interact with students on these sites has become a grey area. Administrators recommend teachers use caution interacting with students on social networking sites, but falls short of prohibiting it. "My thought is err on the side of safety, I'm leery of interaction that occurs in cyberspace, Hinske said. A well-intended comment on a social networking site can be misinterpreted and can cause future problems. Bice said teachers "are aware of the minefield this creates." Typically, teachers do not communicate via Facebook until after the student graduates, Bice said. "It hasn't been a problem between teachers and students," Bice said. Larson said Walworth Elementary School recommends teachers use "their professional judgement." - Does the school have Internet filters? Filters and firewalls are in place on school computers to prevent kids from accessing pornography, chat rooms and sites that focus on violence and drugs. However, no firewall is perfect. "It's amazing how many times kids can get around them," Larson said. To prevent students from accessing this information, teachers watch what websites they visit. In the future, Larson said the district hopes to purchase a monitor that allows teachers to see what students are doing online at all times. Hinske said Big Foot's filter blocks key words and categories. When a questionable item slips through the filter, the district can block specific sites. At Williams Bay, Administrator Dan Bice said all Internet access is filtered. In the computer lab, teachers are room can scan the computers to assure students are logged onto the correct website. With only 20 computers in the library, it is easy to monitor what sites students are viewing. The filter blocks sites with certain words or sexual content, Bice said. He added the Health and Human Growth and Development class doesn't use the Internet for content.
September 01, 2010 | 08:42 AM
Walworth — Sexting and cyberbullying have made national headlines across the country, and local schools report these incidents have occurred within their walls, too.

Big Foot Principal Mike Hinske said the district has experienced it. "We have seen some, but not a lot," he said.

Area educators are well aware of the issues spawning from new technology and expect to see more incidents in the future.

To prepare for these issues, teachers and local law enforcement have received training.

What they have seen

At Walworth Elementary School, Principal Pamela Larson said she hasn't seen cases of cyberbullying within the district.

However, she said when she worked at Badger High School, she witnessed it and it can be nasty.

"It's name-calling and putting people down in vicious ways," she said. "It's in words you couldn't print."

The teasing primarily comes through text messages and social networking sites.

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"If it's teasing, it's malicious teasing," Larson said.

Although schools want to prevent cyberbullying and sexting, they are limited in what action they can take.

Schools can act when the threat occurs within their walls. However, when threats are sent from outside the school, it becomes difficult for the district to intervene.

"When it's happening at home, we have to ask if it's disrupting the learning environment," Larson said. Although schools may not be able to address every issue, there are ways to handle the problems.

Police involvement

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Walworth Emergency Service Director and Police Chief Chris Severt said parents have made complaints about harrassing text messages sent to their children.

When this occurs, an officer will speak to the person sending the message.

"Generally, one warning takes care of the problems," he said.

Fontana Police Chief Steve Olson said there was one incident in the village in the past year and police addressed it.

When deciding whether to take action against a suspect, Olson said several factors are weighed.

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"We look at each case and the totality of the circumstances, the age of the victim, the age of the suspect, what was said and in what context," Olson said.

Williams Bay Police Chief Robert Pruessing said the problem with harassing messages has occurred in the village, but involved adults.

"One group of women just wouldn't take quit for an answer," he said. The women were text arguing "along the lines of boyfriend-girlfriend issues."

When kids say unfriendly words to each other Pruessing will probably try to get the parents to address the issue. Although problems have not occurred yet, he expects to see a juvenile cyberbullying case at some point.

"Every kid you see has a cell phone and is texting," he said. "They can't yell at each other anymore, so they text at each other in capital letters. That's how kids communicate."

As the popularity of text messages continues to soar, Severt knows he will see more incidents where people find threats in their inbox.

"Text messaging wasn't popular two or three years ago, and now it is like people forgot how to talk and they just text," he said.

At the schools, Hinske said punishments for cyberbullying has yielded detentions and even multiple day suspensions.

When a young person receives a harassing e-mail, Larson said he or she shouldn't click the delete button.

"If it happens, they need to keep copies and print out copies with the time on it," Larson said. She said this creates a paper trail and the complaint can be forwarded to the school or police. "This way we can act on fact and see what it really is," she said.

Students aren't allowed to have cell phones inside of schools, which Severt said may leave cases of threatening text messages unreported.

In Williams Bay, students are allowed to have cell phones before and after school, not during the day.

The first time a student is caught with the phone they have a meeting with Williams Bay Junior and Senior High School Principal Dan Bice.

Parents are called into the school the second time to collect the phone. Problems don't extend beyond the second time, Bice said.

Bice said as the technology evolves, the district may need to review its policy.

"Cell phones are no longer just phones. They're computers, calculators and entertainment centers," he said.

It's getting harder to tell an iPhone from a sophisticated calculator, Bice said.

Walworth police discuss cyberbullying and other Internet issues during the CounterAct Program, which replaced DARE a few years ago.

Two police officer in Walworth, Steve Sigmund and Parry Kjendlie, also have been trained to deal with Internet issues, according to Severt.

Olson said Fontana Police Officer, Aaron West, also has received specialized training in handling Internet-type crimes.

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