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Special Report: Online Bullying And Discipline

School policy allows administrators to intervene when students clash, whether it is verbally or physically.

“I think bullying has always existed,” said Carla Gasway, Principal at Franklin High School. “It’s just in a different format now.”

Technology is rewriting the rules.

Administrators are now approached by parents and students about bullying happening on Facebook and other online sites.

“Physical bullying really isn’t even a thing anymore. At least not at Franklin,” said Franklin senior Rion Thompson.

He thinks technology has had a huge effect on bullying.

“It’s a lot easier to spread rumors this way. It’s a lot easier to talk about people behind their back this way,” Thompson said. “You can go around and hurt people in a different way than bullying used to when it would be upfront, maybe physical.”

Franklin Assistant Principal Marc Escareno agrees with Thompson.

Escareno told ABC-7, “It’s changed a lot. Everything is so instantaneous now. The kids can just message each other, ‘Hey. Something’s going on right now.’ And before you know it you have a crowd.”

Technology has changed how fights begin, and also how principals can respond.

El Paso Independent School District policies dictate that administrators have jurisdiction over what happens on campus, 300 feet off campus, and while a student is coming to or leaving school. What happens online after school hours in the student’s home is not really their jurisdiction.

“It is really a gray area,” Gasway said. “We’re not always able to take disciplinary action because it hasn’t happened on campus.”

But both Escareno and Gasway said they’re doing what they can.

“If it’s brought to our attention and it spills into the campus environment, yes, we do talk to them,” Escarino said. “We’ve even been known to have police services in terms of mediating.”

“They can print out their Facebook page for us to see. And they can print it if it’s a text message,” Gasway added. “We can’t look at their phone but they can show us on their phones.”

Reporting bullying has gone high-tech, too.

Thompson helped create a page on the EPISD website where students across the district can report problems on their campus anonymously.

“The ultimate goal — and even though it’s idealistic — we really just want to entirely eliminate bullying in EPISD and serve as a model for what other school districts can do to prevent bullying and educate parents and students about it,” said Thompson.

Thompson’s vision shows that the Internet can still be used to do good things.

“It’s a great tool when used appropriately,” Gasway said. “We just need to live together and be nice to one another.”

Gasway told ABC-7 that if the bullying continues after she and the other administrators have stepped in, students can face in-school suspension or even alternative school.

Both the Socorro and Ysleta school districts have programs on Internet safety and cyberbullying.

Socorro ISD officials also told ABC-7, district policy allows administrators to take action if activities outside the campus impact the learning environment.

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