While mainstream media reports of the recent death of British Columbia teen Amanda Todd have called national attention to the matter of cyber-bullying, Gabriola Elementary School (GES) policy shows the school has already considered how to confront the issue.
The school’s anti-bullying policy states: “Disrespectful behaviour in any form at our school, especially bullying, will not be tolerated (this includes cyber-bullying)”. The policy defines bullying as: “Ganging up on someone (includes social networks), teasing someone in a hurtful way (includes electronic communication), using put-downs such as insulting someone’s race or making fun of someone for being a boy or a girl (includes online activities), and spreading rumours about someone (includes social networking and online activities)”.
Nanaimo District Secondary School (NDSS) – the high school attended by most post-elementary Gabriola students – has also taken a position against cyber-bullying. NDSS Newsletter #7 calls cyber-bullying “the willful and repeated use of electronic means (computers, cell phones) by a person to torment, threaten, harass, humiliate, embarrass, or otherwise target another person. Cyber-bullying is an increasing problem and young people need to be aware of why people cyber-bully; how it can be prevented; what to do if they happen to be cyber-bullied; and how to stay safe online.”
Despite this policy, a grade twelve student at NDSS, who did not give permission to be named, said she was aware of at least one school-related cyber-bullying incident in the past year. She said an embarrassing photo of another student was posted on Facebook. “I don’t know what (the person who posted the picture) was thinking,” she said, “ ‘cause the girl was tagged in it and could see it.” The source said she tried to get the person who posted the photo and comment to take it down, but was ignored.
While cyber-bullying is not new, Donna Reimer, communications director for School District 68 said, “this is an issue that has increased as technology has become more commonly used by young people”. She said “generally, overall, our district is very aware of, and working hard to address, issues of bullying and cyber-bullying.”
Although School District 68 policy adopted in 2007 outlines many forms of bullying, cyber-bullying is not included. Reimer said that “the policy has not been updated since 2007, and there will likely be updates in the coming months. But, bullying is bullying, wherever it occurs (in person or online), and the policy certainly can and has been used to address incidents of harassment that occur in social media and online.”
In dealing with bullying, Reimer said, the district uses websites like Teens Networking Together (www.tntnanaimo.com). She continued: “Our Safe Schools Coordinator provides school and community workshops on cyber-bullying. We have developed online reporting for instances of bullying, have implemented the (Respect-ED Violence and Abuse Prevention Program) and Roots of Empathy.” The Roots of Empathy website describes the latter as a program geared towards “reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy …”.
Reimer said that there is also “annual staff training in suicide prevention and intervention”.
“Some sites, but not all, are blocked through our school district Internet service provider, the Provincial Learning Network,” Reimer explained. “However it should be noted that most young people are accessing social media through other means, not via the school district system.”
“Some specific secondary teachers have discussed (Todd’s death) in their classrooms and have had the counsellor present at the time,” Reimer mentioned, but this is a decision that the teacher makes.
A House of Commons debate in Ottawa on whether the federal government should play a part in anti-bullying strategies took place soon after Todd’s death.
Quebec New Democrat MP Dany Morin stated that the federal government could be “pro-active in this area”, and take a leadership role, since cyber-bullying falls under communications. Morin continued, “I think it’s important for the House of Commons to put aside partisanship and to work together for the benefit of our youth”. Morin put forward the M-385 Motion, which strategises the best way to tackle cyber-bullying.
Liberal MP Hedy Fry, introduced Bill C-273 last year, which “seeks to put the issue of electronic and cyber-bullying into the criminal code with other forms of criminal harassment”. Fry continued, “The thing about the new social media is that it makes cyber-bullying … reach throughout your lifetime, it is there forever. Bullying has changed. With the rise of electronic media, we now know that bullying follows you everywhere.”
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