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entries tagged with: Cyberbullying


Day schools laud Ridgewood principal for Facebook stand

It seems like everybody these days is on Facebook — well, almost everybody.

Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, made worldwide headlines last week after he sent an e-mail to parents urging them to take their children off the social networking site. Speaking to The Jewish Standard earlier this week, Orsini said the general reaction from the local community has been one of gratitude. Some parents have heeded his advice while others have ignored it, he said, but his e-mail succeeded in getting people to talk more about Internet safety with their children.

“I was simply imploring them to look out for the safety of their kids,” Orsini said. “I also made very, very clear that obviously it’s a family choice and I respect any choice a family makes.”

The Standard turned to area day-school leaders to see if they agreed with the principal’s actions.

At Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, Facebook is blocked on all of the school’s computers. Social networking, said Robert Smolen, general studies coordinator and middle school director, is meant to be face to face.

“We know that the Ridgewood principal is correct,” he said. “The use of the Internet for communication that can be very negative and bullying and provocative is something we are not in favor of. We have gotten feedback from time to time about children using it inappropriately and taken them to task for that.”

Smolen acknowledged that Facebook can be used positively. But children, he said, don’t always keep things in perspective, and the site can have a negative impact and lead to cliques.

A recent “South Park” episode lampooned those who get so caught up with the site that their non-virtual relationships are defined by their popularity status on Facebook. In the episode, the main character Kyle befriends a third-grader named Kip Drodry who has no other Facebook friends. Kip is ecstatic, but Kyle watches as his own friends count drops because of his association with this perceived outcast.

At Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, the sixth- and seventh-graders receive formal education in Internet use, said Larry Mash, principal of SSDS’s middle school.

“Our position is we encourage smart use by our students and we encourage careful oversight by parents,” he said. “The parents need to be aware of where their kids are on the Internet and how much they’re using the Internet.”

The Moriah School in Englewood holds a program every year, with local police, on the dangers of Facebook. The school has in the past urged parents not to let their children use the site, but realizing that’s not always realistic, the school asks parents to monitor their children on the Internet, said principal Elliot Prager.

“What a child does in his or her free time, if it involves another child in the school [negatively], Moriah will take all necessary steps, including expulsion from school if necessary,” he said.

Last year Moriah instituted a new cyberbullying policy, considering cyberbullying an offense whether it takes place in or outside of school. After letters about the policy were sent home the school issued a handful of suspensions for violations, but has not had to respond as harshly this year.

“From what we can see and what we know, the policy has had a very positive impact on the behavior of the kids,” Prager said.

Arthur Poleyeff, general studies principal at high school Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, not only agreed that middle school students should stay off Facebook, but added that high school students should not use the site either.

“There is very little benefit for students being on Facebook in middle school or high school,” he said. “Parents should take control over what their kids are doing online and not allow them to have computers in their bedroom where they’re locked away all day and night.”

Gerrard Berman’s Smolen urges parents to closely follow what their children do on the Internet. Facebook, he said, is just one of many opportunities children have to interact online and if it’s taken away, they can easily find another vehicle.

“Parents have given their children a tool, and the children need to have an accountability for that tool,” Smolen said. “IPhones, iPods, and iTouches all have Internet capability. It’s like giving them the keys to the car and letting them go wherever they want.”

Orsini said he has heard from more than 100 parents about his e-mail. Some have disagreed with him but most have been respectful. He is amazed, he said, that news of his request has grabbed international headlines.

“It hit a nerve,” he said.


ADL targets cyberbullying in the wake of Rutgers suicide

Neuer says electronic abuse is a growing phenomenon

When 18-year-old Rutgers student Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, he may have been responding to cyberbullying, says Etzion Neuer, the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey regional director.

“It’s something that can have tragic and devastating results,” he said.

According to Neuer, Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan has not made a final decision on how to charge students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, who used a hidden webcam to broadcast a same-sex encounter by Clementi, a Ridgewood resident. The prosecutors’ office is seeking to determine if the perpetrators targeted Clementi because of his perceived sexual orientation.

“If so, a prosecution on hate crimes charges could be part of a strong and effective outreach and education effort to deter future such bullying,” said Neuer.

But whether this is labeled a bias crime is not the main issue, he added. While the case may involve homophobia, “it appears that the perpetrators committed this [act] without any regard for the consequences, and that speaks to the general problem with cyberbullying and misuse of the Internet.”

“Many young people spend so much time on the Internet, yet they have no sense that there are real-world consequences to their actions,” he said, adding that “parents have to work very early on with children on this issue, and it doesn’t end with high school.”

Defining cyberbullying as “intentional harm inflicted through electronic media,” he called it a growing phenomenon, as increasing numbers of young people engage in e-mail, texting, chatting, and blogging “as a central part of their social life.”

With that use comes an increase in the misuse of these technologies to “bully, harass, and even incite violence.”

Neuer said that according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, this kind of abuse affects between 20 percent and 50 percent of all United States teens.

He is not surprised, he said, given the stories he has heard from students during ADL school workshops addressing the issue.

Calling educating against cyberbullying a natural part of ADL’s mission, Neuer said “it may be motivated by prejudice, hate, or bias, based on factors such as race, religion, or sexual orientation.” But “whether related to identity-based group membership or more universal characteristics such as social status or appearance, the cruelty can produce devastating results,” he said.

The New Jersey director said that over the past several years, the ADL has developed interactive workshops for students from elementary through high school.

“While we’re known primarily in the Jewish community as being the go-to group on anti-Semitism, we’ve also had a broader mission dealing with bigotry and stopping hatred of all sorts,” he said, pointing to ongoing anti-bias programs, such as those on cyberbullying for administrators, educators, and students.

Neuer said that some students have told him “chilling” stories. “It’s so disturbing,” he said, that “many of them seem resigned to it, so they’re not reporting it.”

While those students who attend the ADL workshops seem to be helped by the program, “we often feel like it’s just a drop in the bucket. Especially with the electronic media, [we feel] we’re playing catch-up as we respond.”

Parents and administrators should not feel overwhelmed, he said, since “there are steps to put in place and ways to make improvements.”


Yavneh team brings home Law Fair honors

Students take on the topic of cyberbullying

Yavneh students pose with their first-place Law Fair award in front of the Bar Foundation building in New Brunswick. From left, Shoshana Fogelman, Aviv Davidovich, Jonathan Galandauer, Ariel Berman, Ephraim Najman, Noam Putterman, David Jaeger, Zev Kirsch, and Mrs. Elaine Weisfeld, group facilitator. Courtesy yavneh

Preparing for a mock trial is fun, said Yavneh fourth-grader Shoshana Fogelman.

“But it was also a bit scary to see a judge for real,” added the 10-year-old Fair Lawn resident.

In March, Shoshana and seven other fourth- and fifth-grade Yavneh students learned that they had won first place in their grade category at the annual New Jersey Law Fair sponsored by the Bar Foundation.

Their entry — an original, tightly scripted lawsuit produced by the children themselves — closely fit the Bar Foundation’s criteria for an interesting case, said Elaine Weisfeld, Yavneh’s associate principal of general studies for grades 1-5 and facilitator of the project.

“We talked about the fact that there is a difference between civil and criminal law, and that civil law might be more interesting,” she said. “The two main criteria for a good case are that it be on a timely topic, something people are talking about, and that it not be too easy. If it’s too easy, it’s not interesting.”

Following up a topic much discussed in recent days, the eight students in the afterschool club — the Bar Foundation requires that there be four attorneys and four witnesses — chose cyberbullying

According to Weisfeld, the case raised many questions, including bullying, the role of the bystander, appropriate school supervision, discipline, negligence, and liability.

“They were wonderful children to work with,” she said, “serious about the topic and creative [about] dialogue. They were very proud of their product.”

Cases must be presented to the Bar Foundation in a prescribed format, citing the issues, facts, witness reports, and relevant legislation, said Weisfeld. She noted that her students did research on recent bullying laws, “pulling pieces from it that our ‘lawyers’ could include.”

The case detailed the actions of a student dubbed Billy Bully, who used his cell phone to take a picture of fellow student EZ Mark. Bully then distorted Mark’s features and — hacking into the school’s computer — superimposed the doctored photo onto a book fair flyer advertising “The Diary of the Wimpy Kid.” E-mailing the photo to the entire school body, he so embarrassed the victim that Mark refused to attend classes, subsequently requiring both tutoring and therapy. The Yavneh litigators sued both Bully and the school, ultimately winning a guilty verdict.

Yavneh has participated in the Law Fair for some 15 years, said Weisfeld.

“We’ve won a number of times,” she added, noting that “the students work hard at it, meeting an hour a week.” Besides submitting their brief to the Bar Foundation, on May 24 the Yavneh team had a chance to present its case to students from a Montville public school in a courtroom in New Brunswick. They also had an opportunity to air their case at Yavneh itself, which Noam Putterman, a fifth-grader from Bergenfield, particularly enjoyed.

“You could ask them what they thought about our case. They told us how good it was,” he said. While he could tell that the other juries also “got it,” getting immediate feedback was more fun, he said.

“I played Mrs. Mark, the mother of the victim,” said Shoshana. “I said my son was heartbroken and that we couldn’t afford the therapist. We emphasized how kids can get bullied and how we can stop it,” she said, adding that she hoped those of her schoolmates who saw the team enact the case “learned what it could feel like if you were the one being bullied.”

Fourth-grade Teaneck resident Zev Kirsch, who played a lawyer for the plaintiff, agreed that the experience was fun but said he also learned a lot from the experience.

“I knew a little bit about the issue,” he said, but he learned much more when the group reviewed recent cyberbullying laws.

Another thing he learned was that “I want to be a lawyer. It’s fun and intense” not knowing if you’re going to win or lose. “I really want to try to do this again.”

Noam Putterman said that while he knew something about cyberbullying, he hadn’t realized that you could hack into someone else’s account. He also learned something from the presentation of the other team, which tackled the issue of banning trick-or-treating by children of a certain age.

Ephraim Najman, a fifth-grader from Teaneck, said he could tell from the body language of the other team that they agreed with Yavneh’s case.

“At the end of the case, when the judge said they would have to think about whether Billy Bully was guilty of cyberbullying, I saw them nodding yes and I thought, Yay, we won.”

Najman, whose father is a lawyer, said he learned some technical terms he probably wouldn’t have known “until I was older.” He also learned that while people “can say anything, you need proof” to win a case.

“No one should bully,” he said. “We saw that it was really bad.”

Also participating in the presentation were fourth-grader David Jaeger of Wesley Hills, N.Y., and fifth-graders Ariel Berman, Aviv Davidovich, and Jonathan Galandauer of Teaneck.

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