MySpace is no longer their space

A local high school district may crack down on students who are using school computers to access social-networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook and punish them in the hopes of curtailing the alarming trend of cyberbullying.

The Jefferson Unified High School District board will meet to discuss amending its policy tonight. Superintendent Mike Crilly said the district will continue to block social-networking sites on all school computers and discipline students for cyberbullying on the net. He said punishment for accessing the sites would range from a warning to full suspension from the school.

Cyberbullying, called a public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is an online form of harassment that can be as simple as sending a text message through a cell phone to inflict harm on others. It is fast becoming a concern for school officials with the popularity of social-networking sites.

Although district school officials said much of students’ online activity happens outside of schools, they said preventing the use of computers may curtail any future incidents of cyberbullying.

But monitoring students’ online activities has been a constant struggle for school staff.

“We don’t allow them to use MySpace … but they go to proxy servers and get around the blocking if they can,” said Jefferson High School Principal Lou Silberman, whose school has 300 computers. “We try to go around and stop them — it’s an ongoing game.”

He said the school first blocked MySpace early last year after online insults began resulting in fights at school. District officials said students also come to school complaining of denigrating comments posted by their peers.

Cindy Johnson, a parent of a Terra Nova High School junior, actually created a MySpace account for herself to keep an eye on her daughter to ensure she wasn’t stirring up trouble that could carry over to school. A PTA president at Terra Nova, she said she was concerned about inappropriate content, online predators and cyberbullying.

“The schools should have some kind of rule that if the students are caught [cyberbullying], they have to pay consequences,” Johnson said.

According to Debbie Heimowitz, a former Stanford University student who researched cyberbullying in Menlo Park and Redwood City middle schools, teenagers can easily get abused and abuse others online because they don’t understand there could be real consequences to their online actions.

“Schools need to treat the problem of cyberbullying as seriously as regular bullying,” she said. “They need to have a set of guidelines of how they address it at school.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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