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E-bullying: Students offer assistance in investigation of remarks

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One post made fun of how a student looked. Another accused a student of self-cutting. Yet another told a student to burn in hell.

Combine the comments with photos, the immediacy of a social networking site and nearly 2,500 teens from two local schools, and you’ve got an increasing challenge for teachers and principals: Keeping students focused on school and teaching them about the harm that can come from just a few words on the Internet.

The incidents, in which at least seven students had their photos posted online along with derogatory comments, have dominated conversations among students at Franklin’s middle school and high school during lunch and between classes, school officials said.

“That’s the conversation middle school kids want to have, and so they will be talking about this a lot,” middle school Principal Pamela Millikan said.

What took a second or two to post online has led school and police officials in Franklin to launch an investigation of who posted the insults against the students.

But principals and police learned they have help with their probe.

At the high school, students have been emailing Principal Doug Harter, asking him to do whatever he can to find whoever uploaded the photos and wrote the comments. Some students have offered screenshots they took of the photos in case those would help.

“It’s almost created a complete backlash against the perpetrator. It’s almost like people understand this is completely out of line,” Harter said.

Speaking with all students at the high school and middle school is time-consuming — some of the students saw what was posted and may know why, but others have heard about what happened secondhand.

And it’s up to the principals to sort fact from rumor.

Students who know how hurtful those photos could be are eager to talk, both principals said.

“People’s feelings are involved here. That’s where the students say they don’t want people to be hurt,” Millikan said.

For at least two students, that damage has already been done.

Harter said two of the students whose pictures were posted online missed at least one day of school this week.

One of those students was at school Monday, but as word about the photos spread, the student felt worse throughout the day, as if everyone were staring.

The student spoke with a counselor but was too anxious to attend school on Tuesday, Harter said.

“It is stressful. The things that were said about them, now that more attention has been brought to it, now they feel everybody knows about it. Everybody’s looking at them,” Harter said.

Millikan is considering inviting a speaker to the middle school to speak with students about the pros and cons of social media.

Teachers in Franklin as well as school districts across the state and nation have been using the Internet and online learning more with students, showing them how helpful it can be with research. Students also need to know how harmful it can be to anonymously attack someone online, Millikan said.

Harter said he is open to having a speaker at the high school, but he’d be considering that more closely if students were indifferent or praising what had happened, instead of offering to help with the investigation.

“In a sense, that’s been very positive,” he said.

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