Cyberbullying Goes Up As Temperature Drops

Inappropriate comments and threats via Twitter were directed towards MCPS Superintendent Joshua P. Starr the night before a potential snow day, leading him to publish an open letter to parents Dec. 13.

This letter concerned the need for a community-wide discussion on teaching children how to take advantage of the Internet in a safe and civil way. Because Dr. Starr has a public Twitter account, users can not only see his tweets, but can respond to them as well. When Dr. Starr and the MCPS faculty were deliberating whether or not to close schools due to inclement weather, he received hundreds of differing responses from students.

Some responses were, as Dr. Starr stated in his letter, “clever, funny and respectful,” pleading with him to cancel school. However, some were “offensive and disturbing,” threatening not only him but his family members as well. Many of these tweets also contained profanity and racial epithets, Dr. Starr reported. Dr. Starr states that some tweets went as far as to say they were going to slash his tires.

In his letter, Dr. Starr also wrote of the difficult decision of canceling schools, which involved staff working long hours to monitor things like road conditions and weather forecasts.

“I read the letter that Dr. Starr put out to the MCPS community and I think he handled it in an appropriate and respectable way,” senior Jasmine Haddad said.

While Dr. Starr wrote that many of the tweets were most likely sent without students thinking about it, he also stated that it is important that parents monitor their children’s use of technology and social media and set some kind of limits on their social networking. He suggests that children under 13 years old should not take part in social networking as the adolescent brain is not equipped to reason the way adults brains are.

The focus of Dr. Starr’s letter was introducing the idea of “cybercivility,” meaning that students should strive to become caring, responsible online users who interact in a civil and respectful way.

Students who don’t use the Internet appropriately, Dr. Starr states, face the possibility of it impacting their future. “I’d like to think they wouldn’t post such things, especially if they understood that these posts are permanent and can follow them and impact college acceptances, job opportunities and future relationships,” Dr. Starr wrote in his letter.

Dr. Starr also wrote that threats such as the ones he received could mean he is legally responsible for reporting them to the police and parents.

At RHS, just like any other high school, cyberbullying issues have occurred as many students engage in social networking in multiple ways. “I don’t want to say we spend every day dealing with it here at Rockville but issues certainly have come up,” Principal Billie-Jean Bensen said.

According to Bensen, administration does not get involved with any cyberbullying issues unless they become a part of school. This means a student is being affected inside the school environment. The school will take steps such as informing the students’ parents and handling the issue in the counseling office to ensure that the issue is resolved.