The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 23, 2011

Cyberbullying: State Police working to spread awareness to kids, communities

BECKLEY — Sgt. M.K. Summers of the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit is working to spread awareness of cyberbullying and Internet safety by reaching out to schools, students, parents and organizations.

Most recently Summers  finished a series of presentations on cyberbullying at Independence High School.

“The State Police is working together with Raleigh County Schools to educate, empower and encourage young adults to be safer online and to think before they post. We let them know that their online life and actions have real world consequences,” he said.

Summers explained that cyberbullying and sexting (sexual texting) is a problem in and out of schools nationwide.

“We just recently had an incident at Shady Spring High School where a student was filmed being beaten up at school and it ended up on YouTube. Here you have a guy who was bullied at school and it didn’t stop there. It was online for others to see and make comments. Now it has been taken down, but how many people downloaded it before it was down and have it on their computer and are e-mailing it back and forth?” he explained.

Today’s most problematic website is Topix, he said, but all social networks like Facebook and YouTube can be a platform for cyberbullying.

Part of what Summers hopes to accomplish is to let students know how serious cyberbullying is by sharing with them the story of 15-year-old Eric Nelson, a Randolph County teen whose death may be linked to bullying.

Summers also shows an ABC made-for-TV film, “Cyberbu//y” as a part of his presentation.

“I don’t think students really realize how much harm they are doing. I think this movie does a great job of bringing out the impact that cyberbullying can have. The film, rated TV-14, depicts a pretty, popular girl who experiences isolation and depression due to bullying,” he said.

George Shupe, assistant principal at Independence High School, said “I have gotten a lot of feedback from the film. Some of the kids cried during it, but you could have heard a pin drop and I have heard them talking about it since.”

“Most high school kids have been a victim or a bully at some point in their life. This presentation makes them realize that words do hurt — the things they say build up inside another person.”

Shupe pointed out that under Raleigh County Schools’ new Bullying Policy, any bullying that affects or interrupts the educational process, whether it happened on school grounds or not, can be addressed by the school.

Shupe said that any student who feels they are being bullied can come forward and talk to administration or counselors. With a proactive Bullying Intervention Process, bullies are required to watch a video, learn what harassment is, discuss the Student Code of Conduct and sign a pledge to stop bullying.

Many instances of bullying are stopped this way before they result in a fight or affect student academics or health.

If this intervention is not enough, he said, the bully will be assigned a consequence under the Raleigh County Schools Student Code of Conduct, which can be as serious as suspension, alternative placement or expulsion, he said.

Under West Virginia State Law, Code 61-3C-14A, it is unlawful for any person to use a computer, mobile phone, personal digital assistant or other electric communication device to with the intent to harass, abuse, or threaten to commit a crime against another person.

Violations of this law are a misdemeanor offense and those convicted can face up to $500 or six months in jail. For a second offense, a violator can be fined $1,000 or one year in jail.

Summers is willing to take this cyberbullying presentation into other schools, inside Raleigh County and beyond, and into PTO meetings, church groups or any organization that wants to foster a discussion of cyberbullying and its seriousness.

Because of the nature of the topic, the film does have some racy themes and mild language, he said.

Summers also does a Netsmartz presentation on general Internet safety that is suitable for elementary children. He has presented this program for 4-H groups, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and other groups.

Among the things he addresses is geo-tracking. An application that attaches GPS coordinates to photos if not turned off on smartphones.

A predator might ask a kid to just send a harmless picture of their Christmas tree, but with this photo the predator will know where the child’s home is, he explained.

E-mail Sgt. M. K. Summers at mksummers @wvsp.state.wv.us if interested in bringing one of these programs to your school, church or organization.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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