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Event targets cyberbullying in schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Krista Kobeski works for Facebook, and even she wonders what it would be like to grow up in today's online world.

Kobeski, a member of Facebook's policy communications team, travels the country to speak to school districts about the social media site's educational outreach programs, particularly relating to cyberbullying.

"I can't imagine growing up with the technology these kids grew up on," Kobeski said at a discussion in Charleston on Tuesday. "It's a motivating factor to ensure we're really building the best tools for a resolution ... and we're taking the time to sit and learn from each of you."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., hosted the roundtable discussion at the Kanawha County Board of Education on Tuesday to focus on cyberbullying in the state's schools.

Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring and several principals from the county's middle and high schools joined the discussion.

Capito pointed to a recent Florida case, where 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick climbed a tower at an abandoned cement plant and jumped to her death, after police say two of her classmates bullied her online for months.

"My interest really is thinking of the desperation of that young girl ... It seems like another child could've taken it and blown it off, but to be that desperate to do that at that young of an age is just really painful," Capito said. "Technology is changing every day. All the things that are available to anybody that has a personal communication device is just unreal, and I think it opens up the possibility of great things, but it also opens up the possibility of not-so-great things."

Tuesday's roundtable was the first in a series of similar discussions Capito has planned that will focus on the issue of bullying in West Virginia schools. The event was mostly closed to the public "due to student privacy concerns."

"As far as what's going on in Congress with this kind of thing -- really, nothing. I'm just trying to gather information to see where you are all going. I'm not sure this is even a place where you can legislate and stop or prevent these behaviors," Capito told Kanawha County educators.

"Obviously, like anything involving children and students, it takes everybody. It takes administrators, nurses, counselors, students and parents to be heavily involved ... in what can be very sensitive points."

Facebook offers specific privacy settings to protect users, in addition to allowing users the ability to anonymously report abusive or suicidal posts.

"I spend a lot of time with educators all around the country talking about what you're seeing in your schools," Kobeski said. "We know that in solving problems, the best approach is to get the right people, and this is a really nice display of folks from all different levels of education," Kobeski said Tuesday.

The Kanawha County school board wrestled with cyberbullying earlier this year, after board member Becky Jordon urged that more be done to combat the problem.

"There are a lot of kids who don't want to go to school after kids go cuckoo on their phones and write mean stuff. They have to be punished," Jordon said at a school board meeting in October. "I think it's a problem, but I don't know what everyone here in this room can do. You can't control every child's phone. It's a parent's job, and it's not being done."

At that meeting, the board studied case law surrounding the subject, with the school system's general counsel, Jim Withrow, suggesting that the board be careful about its jurisdiction when it comes to online bullying that happens after school hours, but to focus on whether the bullying has a major influence on the school learning environment.

Kanawha County requires teachers to undergo training dealing with bullying that happens online, and all students must take "cyber-safety lessons" each year, according to Leah Sparks, assistant superintendent for instruction in charge of technology.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at or 304-348-4814.




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