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Confronting the bullies

September 3, 2011

Cyber-bullying is not unique to any one school or system.

The frequency of conflicts, insults, harassment and bullying sparked on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter is increasing at all levels of education.

"It is becoming an issue in all school systems, not just Catawba County," said CCS School Board Attorney Crystal Davis.

That has prompted school officials to begin taking a proactive approach to the problem, both before bullying — or harassment online — occurs and after.

Newton-Conover Middle School Principal Patrick Nelson said getting parents involved goes a long way toward solving some of those issue.

"We have parent classes and we try to educate the parents," said Nelson, who was previously principal at Shuford Elementary.

Goals of those classes are to help parents understand what to look for and how to monitor their children's online activity.

"We also try to educate our students," he said. "We read a book on bullying in all the homeroom classes and we did a nine-week lesson on that."

Plus, students sign a contract stating they will not "do any type of bullying."

"That holds the kids more accountable so that if they are caught, they have signed a pledge and we can go to them and tell them that 'You signed a contract, and broke that contract,'" he said. "We have tried to take a proactive stance. It is not that big of a problem, but we want to make sure it is not as big of a problem by educating staff, the parents and the students."

Meanwhile, at Newton-Conover High School, students are encouraged to report it, said counselor Tammy Hayman.

"When (cyber-bullying) happens, we encourage the students not to delete it. One thing they want to do is make it go away," she said. "We tell them not to delete it because it is evidence of the bullying or harassment going on."

Students also shouldn't respond to it, she said.

"We highly encourage the students to come and discuss it with us," she said. "If they don't tell anyone, they can't get assistance. We want them to get us involved because that is a way to deter it."

At Newton-Conover High School, students can anonymously report harassment of any level in the "bully box," Hayman said, adding the anonymous student must still report the person responsible for the bullying.

"We have to be able to find out it is going on to stop it. Then we have a process of where we have to look at whether it impacts the school and how it impacts the school," she said. "Are these things going on away from campus and if, so there are things we can do, whether it is getting parents engaged in the conversation or contacting law enforcement."

Both Hayman and Nelson said that school resource officers play an active role in preventing bullying, whether it is by monitoring students' social networking activities and holding "teen court," or exploring legal punishment.

However, addressing problems related to classroom and cyber-bullying goes beyond counseling victims, Hayman said.

"We try to counsel those being attacked, and on the flip side, you want to see what is the root of the problem with the people who are bullying. A lot of times there may be under-lying insecurities. There may be depression, anger or things going on at home where they feel like they have to do this."

Counselors try to work with students facing problems that lead to bullying so they can "break out of it."

"We want to keep them from thinking this is how they have to deal with under-lying problems," she continued. "I don't think people just wake up and decide to be a bully."

While counselors try to work with "bullies" to resolve problems, new discipline policies approved by state leaders will also allow them to be more proactive with punishment — even if the harassment occurs away from the school.

"They have to understand there is a consequence," Hayman said. "While we want you to understand we are not washing our hands of you, we want to help them work with this. But we also have to give them a consequence for doing something they shouldn't be doing."

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