Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Police and school officials are urging parents to “break that code of silence” with their children and discuss cyberbullying — a form of schoolyard tormenting now considered criminal.
On Tuesday at R.O. Gibson Middle School, Metro Police Lt. Ray Steiber announced a new Nevada law aimed at curbing cyberbullying, a growing trend nationwide where students use technology — text messages, social networking sites, e-mail — to intentionally hurt others.
“We have remedies in place to deal with face-to-face bullying,” Steiber said. “However, the way technology has moved and advanced is that it has now become anonymous.”
The new law, which went into effect July 1, makes it a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances, for students to threaten “to cause bodily harm or death to pupil or school employee by means of oral, written or electronic communication.”
Cyberbullying, aided by the fact that 83 percent of middle and high school students own cell phones, often stems from schoolyard disagreements or simply because a person doesn’t like someone else, Steiber said.
“It’s not just a normal part of growing up,” said Capt. James Ketsaa of the Clark County School District Police. “It’s a very serious concern of ours.”
Because roughly 85 percent of parents with school-age children don’t understand cyberbullying, Ketsaa said, a letter defining cyberbullying and what’s not tolerated will be distributed online to warn parents. The Clark County School District also has updated its regulations to deal with cyberbullying, he said.
“It’s not funny and we need to really urge kids to report bullying,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are some tragic consequences if we don’t.”
Children who are victims of cyberbullying might show signs of depression, anxiety, outbursts of anger, isolation, low academic achievement or threaten suicide, Steiber said.
No suicides related to cyberbullying have occurred in southern Nevada and,
Steiber said, he hopes these new initiatives keep it that way, especially given the nationwide statistics:
• Eighty-one percent of students who cyberbully say they do it because they think it’s funny.
• Twenty percent of students say they have been bullied in the past.
• Twenty percent of students say they have been bullies.
• Girls are more likely to cyberbully and be the victims of cyberbullying.
To buck the trend, Lt. Ken Young of the school district police said, the district links students with counselors and professionals who deal with cyberbullying issues, teaches students how to report it and operates several anti-bullying projects.
School district police also use electronic mediums to investigate possible cases of cyberbullying, he said.
Even so, Linda Archambault, principal of R.O. Gibson Middle School, said it’s up to students to eradicate the issue, which is why the school participated in a national challenge program last year and intends to do so again this year.
The program pulls 100 students from the school — about 30 considered bullies, 30 considered leaders and 40 other students — and puts them with 25 adults in a behind-closed-doors setting where they learn the consequences of their actions.
After its debut last year, Archambault said, she noticed a significant decrease in the number of arguments and referrals to the dean’s office.
“I think kids don’t always realize how painful it is,” she said. “Through that training, they realized it’s not right.”
During the program, Archambault said, students began apologizing to each other and eventually helped spread the word through the rest of the school with noticeable results.
For instance, she said, a few students perceived as bullies voluntarily began helping blind students navigate the school.
Amberly Lopez, a seventh-grader at R.O. Gibson Middle School, said the real problem with cyberbullying is the need for a winner. The ugly exchanges through text messages and on the Internet escalate until one person finally gives up, she said.
“Whenever I see it, I feel like I should go up there and say, ‘Quit it,” said
Lopez, who added that a friend of hers has been a victim of cyberbullying.
It’s that mindset Archambault hopes continues to build among students, but she’s realistic.
It’s impossible to know the full magnitude of cyberbullying, so the school is updating its website with a section where students can anonymously report incidents, she said.
R.O. Gibson Middle School has a zero-tolerance policy about cyberbullying, so the bottom line is “it’s not acceptable,” Archambault said.