Delaware victim evaluates policy to regulate online bullying [video]

A New Castle County mother and her teenage daughter who was bullied online are pleased with the progress Delaware is making to better tackle cyber-bullying incidents due to the growing number of social media websites where young people often communicate.

Last year, First introduced you to the mother-daughter team who were directly affected by online bullying. It is an issue state education leaders have addressed head on so that they can hold cyber bullies responsible especially if the incident occurs off campus. Now, the Delaware Department of Education is asking schools across the state to adopt new regulations regarding all online activity.

The countdown has already begun for Delaware schools which are under a 90 day deadline to adopt a cyber bullying policy after bullies started to take their antics from the schoolyard to the computer.

“We think that it’s going to help many families and schools be able to handle these situations better. As these events often occur outside of school, but they tumble their way in. Schools are now going to be able to take action,” said Jeanette Wade whose daughter was bullied online.

Three years ago Jeanette’s daughter Bethany got a taste of what it was like to be cyber bullied when one of her classmates created a Facebook page called “Everyone hates Bethany Wade”.

“The time that we were made aware of it, there were 60 students involved. Most of them, 95% of them, were classmates at her middle school. And because of the way that district policy was written, any electronic events that are not done at school, during school time, couldn’t be disciplined by the school district,” said Jeanette.

Now students who face incidents similar to Bethany’s will not go through the same obstacles thanks to the passing of Senate Bill 193 which calls for a cyber-bullying policy to be adopted by Delaware schools.It also provides a means for the Attorney General’s office to assist and defend a district whose cyber-bullying policy is legally challenged.

“So really district and charter schools now will have a bully prevention policy, part of that bully prevention policy will be a cyber bullying component with the required state language from the regulation,” said Delaware Department of Education spokesman John Sadowski.

“It’s a step in the right direction. I don’t know necessarily if that’s enough. Because where is the accountability for the schools to make sure that they are reporting these incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying,” said Jeanette.

Bethany who’s now a sophomore at Appoquinmink High School was only a 7th grader at Alfred G. Waters Middle School when she was bullied online. Bethany didn’t have a Facebook page then because her parents thought she was too young.

“It was just terrifying, honestly. Because I knew people were talking about it. I knew people were saying things,” said Bethany.

Although Bethany’s parents took matters into their own hands, and teamed up with the Appoquinimink School District to get the page down which was considered a freedom of speech issue at first, her mother Jeanette didn’t get much help from school administrators, not even Facebook.

“We kind of just got pushed off because it was new to the school district. Something like this really hadn’t happened before, this widespread. I don’t think they knew how to handle it. We certainly didn’t know how to handle it,” said Jeanette.

However these regulations are still in the early stages for some like Appoquinimink School District that will build on their school policies to address online bullies. Something Jeanette Wade is very familiar with since she encouraged officials at Alfred G. Waters Middle School to change their school code of conduct regarding online incidents.

“I’m still active. I’m PTA co-president of the middle school where this happened today. My two younger daughters attend that school. I think it’s important for parents to be involved,” said Jeanette.

“We’re waiting on the official guidance from the department on how to go ahead and implement this. Could they implement it with their bullying prevention policy or would it have to be a stand alone separate policy?” said Sadowski.

Whatever the case, for Bethany, she’s not sure what will be best because she says once you’re bullied online, it sort of follows you for the rest of your life. But fortunately Bethany has one thing working in her favor….this time a Facebook page called “I love Bethany Wade” created by former classmates.

“I’m thankful they did. It helped with my self-confidence during a dark situation,” said Bethany.

“You know, I think the bottom line is that we don’t need to make this more complicated than it has to be. Treat anyone else the way you want to be treated. You keep that premise in mind, I think we’ll be okay,” said Sadowski.

The cyber-bullying policy that schools are required to adopt will be applicable from kindergarten through grade 12. Once schools draw up their plans, officials will also have to post this policy on their website. In addition, the Department of Education must create a uniform cyber-bullying policy, that’s based upon a model prepared by the Attorney’s General’s office.

In the past, when districts addressed behavior regarding online bullying, it was done under their school code of conduct.

In the meantime, district and charter schools have until mid-June to adopt a policy to regulate cyber-bullying.

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