On Special Assignment

Feb 26, 2014 1:05 PM by Laura Wilson - KAJ News

Flathead schools taking aim at cyber bullying

KALISPELL - Having unlimited forms of communication at your finger tips, has taken a dangerous turn for some Montana high school students.

Reporter Laura Wilson is On Special Assignment to see how schools are taking matters into their own hands.

It's become one of America's hottest buzz-words. In different cases reported nationwide, cyber-bullying has led to suicide, self-inflicted wounds, and death threats-and that's not too far off from some of the threats school officials see from students right here in Northwest Montana.

"I think about killing them in front of their family. I want to drown them and cut off their arms and legs. This is a common case of cyber-bullying within our schools," Glacier High School Resource Officer Jason Parce said while reading a student's Facebook post.

"The things that are said are a lot harsher than what would be said in person. It gets to you more because they have time to think about what they're going to say. It's rough. It definitely hurts," said Cameron Crosby, who's been a victim of cyber bullying.

"It's hard to get to all of the places that the kids are doing this. We always tell them, make sure you're saving those texts or social media. We usually print that off as evidence," explained Flathead High School Principal Peter Fusaro.

That evidence continues to pile up for local Parce.

"We're the generation of technology. We have access to it all the time. It's never going to go away," Savannah Riggles, a victim of cyber bullying, told us.

"It doesn't just happen when you're at school. It happens all the time now. It's not just the victim and the bully anymore. Everybody knows about it," Parce pointed out.

Montana stands alone as the last state in the country without any anti-bullying laws, according to stopbullying.gov.

"We've either sponsored or supported legislation in the past couple of sessions so that we would have some statutes around anti-bullying. [These laws] just don't get any traction," Montana Office of Public Instruction Deputy Superintendent Dennis Parman said.

Montana may not have any anti-bullying laws, but making threatening comments via phone or the Internet is illegal in this state. High school students have ended up being charged in Flathead County Youth Court for violating what's called the Privacy in Communications.

"Privacy in Communications is the best law that we have to try and deal with this issue. We have three statutes in the state of Montana and then there are sub-sections that cover these types of offenses. Stalking is one of them, criminal defamation is another, and then Privacy in Communications," Parce explained.

The emergence of anonymous social media and Facebook confessions pages has made pointing the finger more difficult in these cases.

"Askfm.com is new. It's literally just cyber-bullying just waiting to happen. It's just saying things anonymously to people so they don't know. What is that?!" Crosby said.

"Kids are pretty savvy and they can find ways to get around it. We're always two steps behind the kids and they're always on to bigger and better things," Fusaro added.

Schools are required under the state's Student Protection Procedures to adopt a policy that prevents this kind of conduct.

From the creation of peer groups to special counselor training, Kalispell school administrators are treating cyber-bullying prevention as much more than just a policy.

"We try to work with different kids within our school. We have our BOLD group, and that's positive peer pressure. That advocates for kids to make the right decisions," Fusaro said.

"We try to find different ways through surveys and counseling to make sure the kids have an avenue to be able to share what's going on. Is it enough? No, it's never enough - there's always more you can be doing," he added.

It may not be enough to put an end to cyber bullying, but it is putting out a pretty clear message to students who are sending threatening ones. And for those who have fallen victim to it, have an even more personal message to put out there.

"Ask for help. There's a lot of people out there who will support you if you do," Crosby advised.

The Montana Department of Public Instruction expects some kind of anti-bullying law will make it through the next legislative session.


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