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Cyber Bullying Gets a Cyber Take-Down

September 26, 2007 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

Bullying used to consist of a shove on the playground or a rumor whispered after school. In the 21st century, bullying is a text message sent to several hundred students at once, or an abusive post on MySpace.

State Rep. Debra Hilstrom, who sponsored an anti-cyber-bullying law enacted this year, said 30 percent of teens are bullied at one time or another and that 160,000 stay home from school each day because of intimidation.

Cyber-bullying in schools includes sending hate mail, spreading sexual rumors, creating a web site to vote for the ugliest or least popular, morphing faces into pornographic or unflattering photographs and theft of passwords to deface a personal web page.

"There are students who bring their [camera-equipped] cell phones into the locker room and post the photos on a web site," Hilstrom said.

Most Minnesota schools already have policies on the use of the Internet and computers on school grounds, as the new law requires. But, like old-fashioned bullying, it's difficult to police cyber-bullying when it happens off school grounds.

"There is no magic bullet on how to do this," said Sen. Mee Moua, the new law's chief Senate sponsor.  "Schools are the first entrance to cyberspace for many children whose families don't have computers. This is a tool for these students to learn about cyber-bullying and how to avoid it."

Jeff Powers, superintendent of the Dassell-Cokato school district, said his schools have dealt with several cyber-bullying cases.

"It's complicated," he said, because what happens off-site isn't necessarily a school's responsibility. But, he added, "if it has a negative impact on school kids, then we step in."

Chris Sonju, superintendent of Glencoe/Silver Lake schools, said the most effective way to deal with cyber-bullying is to get all the parties involved together to discuss the problem. "We get the parents involved, and they say they can't believe their children are talking that way on the computer," he said. "That takes care of the problem most of the time."

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