Delaware cyberbullying incident shows need for stronger policies

Anything with internet access like a cell phone, or computer can cause confusion and even emotional pain when people send hurtful messages via text or on social websites like Facebook or Twitter.

Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, (D-Del.), and Attorney General Beau Biden (D-Del) are currently working together to strengthen cyberbullying policies in Delaware. They want to help schools better deal with a growing problem that allows bullies to reach beyond the classroom.

All it takes is just one click and then in a matter of seconds some hurtful words can travel across cyberspace reaching an unimaginable number of people. Bethany Wade and her mom Jeanette, are all too familiar with that as well as the phrase cyberbullying.

“Cyberbullying hurts, a lot of people think oh it’s just through the computer, they’re not going to take it seriously,” said Bethany Wade, a victim of cyberbullying.

But that was the total opposite when Bethany’s former classmate at Alfred G. Waters Elementary School, created a Facebook page two years ago called “Everybody hates Bethany Wade.”

“I was kind of lonely because I had like only one or two friends and everyone else was coming up to me and talking about it behind my back and some people were even coming up to me and saying ‘oh I like that page, I agree with that opinion’ and it just hurt,” added 14 year old Bethany.

Bethany didn’t have a Facebook page at the time because her parents thought she was too young and they were the last to learn about the incident.

“I could have been one of those parents that came home to a child that hung themselves or something, like so many parents across the country have,” said Jeanette Wade, Bethany’s mother.

So Bethany’s parents took matters into their own hands and teamed up with the Appoquinimink School District to get the page down.  Considered a freedom of speech issue at first, Jeanettte didn’t get much help from school administrators or even Facebook.

“I think it’s extremely important for the laws to be changed so that people can be prosecuted or so schools can take better action or anything like that for these kids to be able to survive middle school and high school,” said Jeanette.

And that’s what Lt. Gov. Matt Denn and Attorney General Beau Biden are trying to do.  In fact, they recently hosted several hearings on cyberbullying to get as much input from educators. There’s currently a version of an anti-bullying bill in the House and another anti-bullying in the Senate.

“Our goal is to have something ready to go in September when kids come back to school, so we’re working backwards from that goal, that means we are going to have a draft of the policy prepared in the early summer so the department of education can put it out there for everybody to look at,” said Lt. Gov. Matt Denn.

In the meantime, other schools like Springer Middle School are taking a stand against bullying by raising awareness among children and parents.

“We really try to make parents aware that they need to know what their kids are doing online, have your child’s I.D. number, have their password or whatever, because it happens at home more than it happens here, they need to be the ones to watch what their kids are doing online,” said Principal Jacquelyn Biggs of Springer Middle School.

At Delcastle Technical High School, students get to look at the dangers of online social networking, and of course cyberbullying in the classroom, thanks to an internet safety course now being offered there.

“When you talk about the dangers of just being online you’re talking about what you say, what you do, what you’re posting, the pictures you’re posting, and you try to make the students understand that what ever they post can be brought back, it can hurt them in school, it can also hurt them later on professionally,” said Delcastle Tech teacher Cameron Davis.

Meanwhile after about a year, the “Everybody hates Bethany Wade” page has been taken down”…..and instead of tormenting the 14 year old online, you can now put a smile on her face when you click the like button on a new page, “I love Bethany Wade”

An experience that taught Bethany who now has a Facebook page to watch everything she says online.

“I don’t want to end up hurting someone like I was hurt, that would just make me feel even worse,” Bethany said.

“Where do we go from here is stay involved in the kids schools, let me tell you I’m going to be the president of the PTA at that middle school next year I’ve been the treasurer for the last two years, they see my face at that school weekly if not daily,” Jeanette added.

Since Bethany’s close encounter with cyberbullying , her mother Jeanette has encouraged Alfred G. Waters Elementary School officials in Middletown to change their school code of conduct regarding technology related incidents.

Jeanette is also on the bullying committee at her daughter’s current school to serve as a reminder that she will continue to work hard to keep children from going through what Bethany experienced.

For more tune into First this Friday night at 5:30 on WHYY.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.