Monongalia County officials confront cyberbullying in schools

MORGANTOWN — Cyberbullying that takes place after school can have in-school consequences.

“If they put something on social media that creates an unsafe environment for the students, then we will take action,” Adam Henkins, director of safe supportive schools and athletics, said.

He said action is also taken if something posted on social media causes a disruption in the education process.

Henkins said since most instances of cyberbullying happen after-school, the schools have to deal with the drama created the next day. He said students can easily report instances of cyberbullying by taking a screen shot of the post or text.

He said he believes cyberbullying has taken the place of traditional bullying, and it typically starts in middle school.

“We still deal with traditional bullying, but most of the time an electronic device is involved,” Henkins said.

The school system does not actively patrol personal social media accounts of students, but Henkins said the school does have programs that monitor the Chromebooks the county provides to students.

He said it can be hard to see personal social media accounts unless students have those accounts set to open. Many social media sites, such as Instragram, Twitter and Facebook have privacy options that require users to approve who can see their pages.

Steps are taken by the school system to reduce bullying of all kinds.

There is annual training with staff about harassment, intimidation and bullying, where they are taught how to identify, report and prevent bullying, Henkins said.

Teachers also cover the consequences of bullying with students and appropriate ways to handle it.

Conduct which creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive working environment, has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with an individual work or education environment or adversely affects work or educational opportunities is classified as cyberbullying by Monongalia County Schools’ policy.

It doesn’t matter what kind of electronic device is used and the policy includes mobile phones, computers and even pagers.

Henkins said conduct that could be considered criminal is reported to the police.

Morgantown’s chief of police, Ed Preston, said there is no cyber-bullying code in West Virginia.

There is a law against obscene, anonymous, harassing and threatening communications using electronic devices though.

Preston said nine cases that would classify as cyberbullying have been reported in the past year.

Two of those cases resulted in arrests, one was referred to another jurisdiction, two are pending the service of warrants, a juvenile petition was filed in one and prosecution has been declined in three.

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