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Winnisquam adopts proactive cyber-bullying policy

May 12, 2010
TILTON — With cyber-bullying cases becoming more prominent, Winnisquam Regional School District has developed a policy that addresses the tech-based behavior.

Superintendent Dr. Tammy Davis introduced the new policy to the School Board at its April meeting. Davis said cyber-bullying was not covered under the district's current bullying policy.

"We need something to be proactive about this," Davis said.

Most recently the tragic suicide of a Massachusetts teenager, allegedly the result of cyber-bullying, prompted Winnisquam administration to take action.

The new policy proposal defined cyber-bullying as "use of any electronic communication device used to convey a message in any form that defames, intimidates, harasses or is otherwise intended to harm, insult or humiliate another in a deliberative, repeated or hostile and unwanted manner under a person's true or false identity."

This would include, but not be limited to, the misuse of technology by a student or staff member through email, digital pictures or images or website postings.

Chairman Mike Gagne asked Davis if she anticipated a policy on cyber-bullying from the Department of Education at any time. She said she supposed one would be handed down in the future but that a policy specifically addressing the issue in the district would be a good idea on the meantime.

Board member Tim Lang questioned how often the schools have encountered cyber- bullying. Davis said that while they have not been aware of many instances, the administration felt it prudent to be prepared for any behavior of that type in the future.

Board members also wanted to know what would happen in the case of a student encountering cyber-bullying outside of school, through social networking sites like facebook, as there is a greater opportunity for that to occur.

"In a case like that we would notify the police to handle it," said Davis.

The board, after a lengthy discussion, voted to accept the policy, which went into effect immediately.

Richard Hines, principal of Southwick School, said instances of cyber- bullying starts as early as third, fourth and fifth grade. While no reports have been made so far this year, last year there was an outside occurrence of misuse of a cell phone.

"More and more students are carrying cell phones. Even though that particular problem didn't occur in the school, it carried over into the school so we called the parents in and dealt with it," Hines said.

He stressed that nothing is more upsetting than to hear parents say their child is afraid to come to school, so he takes bullying very seriously.

"We've been talking with the kids about this and while we don't want to give them ideas, we want them to know to go to an adult if something comes across on their cell phone,"' he said.

He and WRHS Principal Dr. Ronna Cadarette agreed the new policy was very proactive and even ahead of any legislation at the state level. Cadarette said the high school and middle school will have presenters come speak with parents and staff on the topic in an effort to educate them in recognizing and handling such behavior. She said staying ahead of technology isn't easy, but it's important to know how to handle its abuse and prevention. The schools are also talking with students to make them aware of what defines cyber-bullying.

"Some may not even realize what they're doing at times. We don't want any tragedies though and want them to understand what (cyber-bullying) is," she said.

No reports of cyber-bullying at the high school have been brought to Cadarette's attention this year, but she is glad to now have a policy in place if an incident is reported.

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