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Cyber-bullying difficult for schools to address

A discussion on cyber-bullying at the Kanawha County Board of Education meeting Monday ended with board members realizing there isn't much they can do about it.

The issue is a timely one in the larger education community as school districts struggle to navigate bullying in the 21st century.

Board member Becky Jordon asked that the board discuss the problem after hearing, anecdotally, about problems with cyber-bulling in the county school system.

"We have a big problem with it," she said. "There are a lot of kids who don't want to go to school after kids go cuckoo on their phones and write mean stuff. And they have to be punished."

But punishing students for bullying, especially bullying that takes place on the Internet, is complex.

Jim Withrow, the board's attorney, presented the board with an overview of existing case law surrounding cyber-bullying cases to paint that picture: in many cases, judges ruled that the bullying represented free speech, or wasn't under the school system's jurisdiction, because it took place at home.

That's not always the case, though, and Withrow cited a case in Berkeley County in which the courts ruled in the favor of a student who was bullied by a peer via a public website.

The bullied student was too uncomfortable to attend school because of the attacks, and the court eventually ruled that the bullying had enough of an influence on the school's learning environment that the school system could discipline the bully.

"This gives us a fairly good rule to address instances where we can say that the right of every student to have a non-hostile learning environment are in play here," Withrow said. "I'm not saying that we need to or should address every one of them, but if we want to address those issues we sometimes can, even if it only affects one student negatively."

Leah Sparks, director of technology, said officials are working to prevent cyber-bullying through a combination of training and resources for students and teachers.

Someone at every school is specifically trained in procedures for dealing with bullying and cyber-bullying, and all staff and students undergo some online training.

"So we're always doing what we can to be proactive and bring these issues forward," she said.

"The real world is not always locked down, so we just have to prepare them for the real world before we send them out into it, by teaching Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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