Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2013

SALISBURY — Janice and Michael Juna saw signs of cyberbullying directed at their oldest daughter, who graduated from high school last year, and they want to make sure the same things don’t happen to their fourth-grader.
That’s why the couple showed up for the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s first parent information session in the “Keeping Our Children Safe” two-part series held at the Salisbury Civic Center.
About 120 parents came for the session, which focused on bullying.
“Most of us don’t really understand what’s happening in school and to our kids,” Michael Juna said. “It’s a different world now. We need to understand what our children face.”
Rowan County District Court Judge Beth Dixon kicked off the one-hour event by talking about different kinds of bullying and the consequences students can face if they bully others.
Cyberbullying and cyberstalking were two of the main areas she focused on.
“I’m telling you what I’m seeing in court. … Misuse of cell phones and computers is really getting kids in trouble,” she said.
Cyberstalking can result in 60 days behind bars. That can include threatening bodily harm or property damage or harassing and intimidating through electronic communication.
Dixon said parents can end up in trouble if they allow cyberstalking.
“Most of the time, cell phones, computers and iPod Touches don’t belong to kids,” she said. “If you knowingly permit any devices under your control to be used inappropriately you could serve time.
“Keep an eye on what your kids are doing. The message is monitor their usage …”
Although anyone can be a victim of cyberstalking, only minors, parents of minors and school employees can be considered victims of cyberbullying, Dixon said.
State law considers cyberbullying as the use of a computer or computer network with the intent to intimidate or harass a minor. That can come in many forms, including posting a real or doctored image of a minor on the Internet, planting a statement to provoke the harassment of a minor and building a fake profile or website.
Dixon said creating a parody account of another student or taking a photo without their knowledge and posting it online with a hurtful caption can be considered cyberbullying.
Although many public officials and celebrities are subject to such acts, Dixon said “our kids are not fair game.”
“It’s just that easy to use electronic means to harass and torment our kids,” she said.
Minors convicted of misdemeanor cyberbullying can serve 60 days in jail, while adults can face 120 days.
“Those are some pretty serious consequences for that kind of goofing off,” Dixon said.
Dixon encouraged parents to either have access to their children’s social media accounts or regularly log on to check out what they are posting.
“Do some snooping to see not just what your kids are saying, but what their friends are saying,” she said. “It’s amazing what you can learn.”
Dixon said students can also end up in trouble if they harass or torment a school employee, thanks to a law that went into effect last month.
Students found guilty of such behavior can spend up to 60 days behind bars. Those under the age of 16 can be slapped with a $1,000 fine.
Those convicted also have to transfer to another school.
“If you love your school, don’t pick on school employees or you’ll find yourself playing for another team,” she said.
Dixon said one of the most important things for parents to remember is to report incidents of bullying to law enforcement immediately.
“Save harassing content to report to law enforcement and school administration,” she said.
Daniel Sevigny, restorative justice program manager at the Rowan County Youth Services Bureau, told parents about an anti-bullying video he created with the help of Rowan County students last summer.
“The video talks about 12 different types of bullying,” he said. “We want to get the message across that bullying is wrong. We don’t want it in our schools and we are going to stand up against it.”
The video can be viewed by searching “You’re not alone” an “reclaiming futures” on YouTube, he said.
Later, a panel including Sevigny, Carol Ann Houpe, the school system’s student services director, and Detective Clint Mauldin of the Salisbury Police Department answered questions submitted by the audience.
The first question was about how to treat verbal bullying and the kind of documentation needed.
Mauldin said in most cases there are witnesses to bullying, but he also suggested writing everything down as it happens.
“If your child comes home and tells you something, write it down,” he said.
Mauldin said it’s also important to report it immediately because stories can change over a matter of days.
“Once a story is told 15 times, it starts to change, so you want to limit the number of times it gets told.”
Sevingy said if the verbal bullying is ongoing it might be helpful to arm students with a recording device.
“If it’s going to happen, at least have your son or daughter prepared. That will help validate your case in court,” he sad.
Another audience member asked if school personnel are obligated to report bullying.
“Anytime there is an incident reported to the principal, they are going to document their findings,” she said. “And teachers should be letting administrators know what’s happening so that can be done.”
One parent asked what they should do if a teacher or teacher assistant is bullying their child.
“The first step would be to talk to the principal at that school,” Houpe said.
The panel wrapped up the meeting with some comments.
“The district has worked really hard this year to make sure to provide additional training to all administrators and staff at schools,” she said. “We are using Olweus Bullying Prevention, which is the only nationally-proven program to be effective.”
But Houpe said the school system needs help.
“It’s not just a school issue, its’ a community issue. We need parent support,” she said. “It takes everybody.”
Houpe said parents should pay attention to their children and constantly ask what’s going on.
“You may be the first person to notice something a little different, a little off,” she said. “Have conversations with your children to let them know to come to you if they have concerns.”
Sevingy said parents should also encourage their children to stand up for their peers who are being bullied.
“Bystanders are the No. 1 issues that we’re seeing, people just standing around not doing anything,” he said. “It’s about taking the lead role, trying to be a better person because those people being picked on don’t have the capability to stand up for themselves.”
Janice Juna said she’s glad to see the district taking the issue of bullying seriously.
“It’s not being swept under the run. Children are losing their lives over bullying and that needs to be brought to light,” she said.
Janice Juna said she was interested to learn about the laws that have recently gone into effect and those that have been on the books that haven’t been enforced.
“It’s good to know parents can bypass the school and go straight to law enforcement, so they don’t have to stay in a holding pattern,” she said.
Candice Daughtery, who has two sons at Knox Middle School, said Thursday’s session was very informative.
“I needed to know what was considered bullying” she said. “Middle schoolers tease a lot and it might be fine at home, but it could be considered bullying at school.”
Daughtery said her sons came home one day laughing about a photo of classmate.
“I told them it was probably humiliating to that person, and that’s bullying,” she said. “They didn’t know it was bullying, they just thought it was funny.
“When I brought that to their attention, it really affected them.”
The next parent information session will be held at 5:30 p.m. at Carson High School. It will focus on safety on school campuses.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.