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As Social Media Evolves, So Do Austin Schools' Anti-Bullying Tactics

KUT News
Austin school officials try to prevent cyberbullying – although they admit students may be more familiar with social media than many instructors. ";

During the school day, teachers and administrators are in charge of student behavior on school property. But as the number of students with smart phones and on social media increases, so does the number of interactions between students beyond the schoolyard – which in some cases leads to cyberbullying.

In the Austin School District, teachers and faculty try to combat cyberbullying, while also educating students about their own digital footprint.

“We will see cases that involve students going back and forth: name calling, talking about other students," says Beverly Reeves, the AISD ombudsman who deals with cyber-bullying conflicts. This past legislative session, lawmakers allowed school districts to get involved in conflicts on social media when the result trickles back into the classroom.

“If we find that the impact of what has taken place is causing the student to not want to go to school, or not want to go to class, then we have authority to take action and look into that behavior," Reeves says.

Reeves says during her ten years with the district, the number of issues involving technology has increased as more students get smartphones with access to new apps and social media sites.

The trick is getting in front of students and educating them about how to use social media maturely before they make a mistake that could cause issues now and in the future. But that can be hard.

“They seem to be one step ahead of us," Reeves says.

As digital natives, it’s not surprising. As soon as district employees understand Facebook or Twitter, new apps like Instagram and Vine pop up.  Reeves says schools try to frame student’s decisions in a larger context.

“Some employees and universities will Google you and if you tagged that photo may come up,” she says. “That one photo may cost chance at job or getting into college or university that you would like to get into.”

AISD also restricts access to some websites on school property and students aren’t allowed on phones during the school day for personal use. But she says the most important thing is that parents talk to their kids about how to behave on the Internet.

“The parents need to set that foundation – and we will, of course, support it," Reeves says.

Earlier this year, a school district in Southern California made waves when it hired an outside company to monitor students’ public Facebook and Twitter posts and alert the district if any cyberbullying occurred. Austin ISD doesn’t go that far. Reeves says often times, the district will sit down with a student who has been bullied, as well as the student who has done the bullying. Sometimes, the police get involved, and the counseling department is brought in.  

Reggie Cajayon with the Texas School Safety Center says the key to educating kids about social media is finding ways to integrate lessons into regular day-to-day class activity.

“That’s the biggest challenge, to be honest. It feels like an add-on for a lot of teachers, something they have to teach versus it being something they talk about in process of what they always do,” Cajayon says.

As technology continues to offer new ways of connecting students and possibly new ways of cyberbullying, AISD says it’s begun to document the number of cyberbullying cases it deals with every year.

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