WASHINGTON – Online bullying is a growing problem for teenagers and it recently hit close to home for one local school official. Now Montgomery County schools are taking the first steps to teaching students how to be safer and kinder online.
In December, Superintendent Joshua Starr and other school officials were deciding whether to close school for a snow day. Starr says before they made a decision, he received threatening and offensive tweets from students.
“One person threatened to kill her dog and her family and herself if I didn’t close school. Then there was the ‘Hey, you know, I’m going to slash Starr’s tires.’ There was rampant use of the n-word,” Starr says.
In a letter to parents following the incident, Starr said “Some of the tweets I received were so disturbing that my staff reported them to the school principal and our security team.”
So he created a new task force to teach kids how to be civil online.
Thursday night’s community forum kicked off the campaign and featured Andrea Weckerle, founder of CiviliNation and author of “Civility in the Digital Age.”
But not even Starr was safe from cyber attacks during the forum. He read a tweet aloud that was sent to him during the presentation.
“The first tweet I got was from someone who said “F— him, cybercvility, his feelings, and his b–s— agenda.’ That kinda makes me sad,” Starr says.
During the question and answer session, a seventh grader asked, “How can I stop a cyberbully from bullying me?”
Starr responded, “When bullies, whether physical or virtual realize there are others that are going to protect the victim sometimes they stop.”
Weckerle also interjected, “Don’t hesitate to talk to a trusted adult… You need to tell somebody who can maybe make a difference. You cannot keep quiet about that.”
Starr says curbing cyber bullying does not mean getting kids offline because technology is a great educational tool. But teaching children how to use the internet in a safe, constructive way is vital to their development.
“It’s about conversations. It’s about trying to figure out how to engage our kids in understanding a really complex world.”
Montgomery County spells out warning signs and tips for parents in a brochure.