School bullies are moving out of the schoolyard and into cyberspace, making the job of monitoring and curbing abuse more difficult for educators such as Neal Weaver, assistant principal at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
“You can’t just see a fight in the playground and break it up anymore,” said Mr. Weaver, who handles discipline for the 770 students of the school with the help of fellow assistant principal Carlin Hart.
As bullying increasingly occurs without physical confrontation, the task of rooting it out takes educators into the realm of detective work, Mr. Weaver said.
“I don’t have the time to be a police officer,” he said, so it is important for victims of bullying to come forward.
He is also keen to provide an effective deterrent — and that is the impetus for new procedures for dealing with cyberbullies, drafted by the school council and up for a vote next month by the high school committee.
Mr. Weaver, as the principal author of the proposed cyberbullying regulations, would allow the school to suspend immediately any student proven to have threatened or defamed the reputation of a fellow student.
The burden of proof lies with the victim. Mr. Weaver said it should be as simple as producing a print out of a MySpace page or evidence left on a cell phone. But a key factor in prosecuting bullying is linking the threatening behavior to the school in some way.
“If they have a text message that says ‘When I see you in the hallway I am going to do such and such to you,’ that is a textbook example,” he said.
Mr. Weaver said cyberbullying is undoubtably an issue at the high school; it appears to occur in waves, with a spate of incidents occurring around Christmas last year.
Though incidents appear to have dropped off in recent months, he said he had received a tip earlier that day that a student would be coming to him with a cyberbullying problem.
He added that further incidents likely occur without the faculty’s knowledge.
“People have sent very off-the-wall, violent things,” he said. “It happens probably more than we know about.”
Regulations are written and reviewed by the school council, a 12-member board made up of teachers, students and parents. The work then goes to the high school committee for approval.
Use of electronic devices in school is the subject of one of the proposed regulation changes.
Some teachers currently permit certain electronic devices — iPods in art class, for example. But some devices are used as both cell phones — which are banned at the high school — and music players, presenting an enforcement dilemma.
If approved, the rules will go into next year’s student handbook.