Students going back to school this fall have lived their whole lives in a digital world where the internet, cell phones and the personal computer have always been available.

For educators, preparing students to navigate and sift through these new forms of technology in order to reap their benefits and decrease the potential risk is no easy task.

Despite the possibility for these tools to be used as effective means of learning and communication, they can, and have become, the new vehicle used to ridicule and harass fellow students. Electronic aggression or any type of harassment or bullying that occurs through e-mail, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs), or text messaging is a concern that school officials must be prepared to respond to.

Research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that 9 percent to 35 percent of young people report being victims of electronic aggression. Some occurrences of this type of violence happen while students are at school, or more frequently, during out of school hours.

However, whether the electronic aggression happens during school or outside of school, it can have an impact on students, negatively affecting their emotions, behavior, and feelings of safety while at school. This new phenomenon raises concerns for school officials regarding the extent of their legal authority and responsibility.

Some schools have developed policies to block access to certain websites on school computers. Other states and school districts have established policies about the use of cell phones on school grounds.

On the Gainesville High School campus, student cell phones are not prohibited.

“Youngsters can have them (cell phones) on their person, but they cannot turn them on during the school day,” GISD Superintendent Bill Gravitt said.

The district’s new closed campus policy also keeps phone usage to a minimum during the school day.

Emergency situations are another story.

“In an emergency, we don’t mind them using the phones,” he said. “Other than that, if they have them turned on and the phone disrupts class, we take them up.”

The first time a student’s phone rings, the phone is confiscated for a day.

“We take them up. Then the phone is returned that afternoon,” he noted.

Habitual phone users face other measures including meetings between school adminstrators, the student and his or her parents.

“After several times, we try to work something out to address the problem,” Gravitt said.

The district also has site-blocking software on all its computers, he said.

“We have (blocking) software in place all over the district, not just on the student computers,” he said.

Keeping kids from visiting certain sites is no easy task, he admitted.

“It keeps us running all the time because kids are pretty computer-savy. We try to stay up to date. We have an excellent technology department. They do a great job,” he said.

Lindsay High School principal Phil Hall said his district decided to implement a new policy regarding cell phone use this year.

“Students may use their phones to text in the common areas and outside the school in the morning before class and during the time when students are walking to and from lunch,” he said.

But students whose phones ring or vibrate during school hours face a penalty.

“Any other time the phone goes off, the student’s phone is taken and they must pay a $10 fine to get it back,” he said.

As for cyber bullying, Hall said it is not as much of a problem at Lindsay as it is in some larger school districts.

“We don’t see as much of it here. It does happen occassionally and I try to address it anytime I hear of it,” he said, adding that the district has software to block certain sites.

“It’s pretty secure,” he commented, “And like any other small school, it’s easier to address.”

On the Web:

Information about cyber bullying and teens is available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/electronic_aggression.

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