‘Sticks and stones...’
Special to the Courier
Sticks and stones can break my bones but words hurt even worse.
This might be perceived as a crude spin on the popular children’s rhyme but most will attest to its honesty. As children, we’re indoctrinated to the belief that words of a malicious nature are frivolous and carry little weight. However, the repercussions of these words bare an emotional toll much more devastating than that of a minor scrape or bruise.
In recent years, the schoolyard bully has increased his range of impact through the use of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is essentially a mode of harassment in which the bully uses technology as a medium to torment the victim. These mediums include popular social networking sites, as well as texting, in order to carry out juvenile acts of verbal aggression.
Cyber bullying is an issue that walks a thin line separating school and police jurisdiction. Cyber bullying falls into school hands, according to WPHS administrator Cindy Gannon, “when the altercation carries over to school grounds.” The moment a student’s school and academic life become jeopardized, is when the school is within its means to intervene. However, the accuser must be able to provide evidence of a verbal exchange to either one of the school’s administrators before the situation can be dealt with.
“Text messaging and Facebook are the two biggest culprits of cyber bullying that we find,” said Del Garrick, Woodland Park High School principal. The consequences for cyber bullying depend upon the severity of the situation. Minor cases of bullying result in detention while more severe cases involving racial or sexual discrimination may result in suspension. However, when the bullying involves threats and or assault, it can lead to police involvement which includes legal consequences such as ticketing as well as jail time.
Another consequence reserved for the more severe cases of cyber bulling, is an expulsion hearing which is carried out by school officials. Such hearings are overseen by the hearing officer, Garrick, who after being presented with the facts of the case along with both sides of the story makes a recommendation as to what discipline would be necessary.
Cyber bullying situations are often dealt with by two departments — the counseling office and the administrators. The counseling office works with the victim and focuses their effort toward alleviating the victim’s distress by helping them to cope with past torment. The administrators, on the other hand, deal with the consequences of the matter and direct their energy toward correcting destructive behavior.
Fortunately, despite its rampant increase over the past several years, WPHS claims to have witnessed a recent decrease in cyber bullying. Garrick attributes this decline to the awareness videos played at both the high school and middle school along with the recent advent of the bullying intervention class.
Created by Administrator Sara Olson, the class is designed to take a more proactive approach toward preventing cyber bullying by placing the bullies and bullied in an environment that allows for an intervention between the two parties.
“Detention was not working, we needed a different approach,” Olson said.
The solution does not lie in preventing the bullying according to Olson, the solution is found in empowering the victim. The sooner those being bullied can self advocate, the sooner cyber bullying will claim fewer victims.