Cyberbullying at Keizer school gets shut down

KEIZER, Ore. -- Some students at Whiteaker Middle School in Keizer were bullied recently on an Instagram account called The Whiteaker Bitches.

Account holders posted photos of young women from the school with captions like, "That makes me want to throw up," "She's fat and ugly. She thinks she's all 'it' but she's really nothing," and "She eats everything in her kitchen in a day ... that's why her parents are so broke and can't buy her stuff that actually fits her."

Though details of who started the account and when are unknown, parents complained about the account June 29 on Facebook and by Wednesday it appeared to have been taken down.

Parents wrote on Facebook that similar incidents have happened in the past and are still occurring at other schools. Claggett Creek Middle School and McNary High School were mentioned by name, but parent leaders at those schools told the Statesman Journal they were not aware of similar Instagram incidents.

However, Danielle Bethell, head of the athletic boosters for McNary, said she'd heard in the last week of an inappropriate Snapchat account used to shame girls.

Oregon statutes, updated in 2010, require schools to take action if bullying takes place on campus, during school time or on the way to or from school. Some school districts, including Salem-Keizer, take it a step further in their policies, saying schools are responsible even when bullying away from school affects a child's ability to learn in the classroom.

Cyberbullying tends to be a gray area for policymakers, but for experts like Nancy Willard, this is a no-brainer.

"Schools, under the ... standards protecting student speech, have the constitutional authority to respond to any off-campus speech that has or foreseeably could cause a substantial disruption at school or interfere with the rights of any other (student) to feel secure and receive an education," Willard said. "Every single court has upheld this."

Willard, director of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, said just because something isn't happening at school doesn't mean it isn't affecting school for the victim.

But punishing the involved students could backfire, she said. Instead, Willard recommends officials work to create a school atmosphere where students refuse to tolerate bullying.

"If they weren't achieving social status by doing this, they wouldn't be doing it," Willard said. "They'll shift the tide."

She suggested the school work with the student leadership classes on the issue. Over the summer, however, it is important the school reach out to parents.

"It only takes one or two students to say this is wrong to shut it down," Willard said, suggesting parents focus on helping their children recognize bullying behavior and know how to respond and where to report it.

"We know about (Whiteaker) because a responsible student told an adult," she said.

Whiteaker has programs in place to intervene and promote a bullying-free culture. It is one of nearly 200 schools across the country that participates annually in the Great Kindness Challenge, a week-long challenge that focuses on positive acts.

"The whole idea is to have a positive attitude about kindness, instead of a focus on bullying," Tami Badinger, vice principal of Whiteaker, said in a previous interview. "There is already enough negativity."

Despite the recent Instagram incident, the work at the school may be paying off.

Photos on the Instagram account racked up multiple comments, but some came from students standing up to the bullying and declaring they were going to report the posts to the police.

The Keizer Police Department is aware of the incident, but could not confirm yet if an investigation will be conducted.

Salem-Keizer officials became aware of the Instagram bullying because of the Statesman Journal inquiry.

"Cyberbullying and any other form of harassment, bullying and intimidation are not tolerated," said Jay Remy, a spokesman for Salem-Keizer. "The bottom line is that, according to law and policy, every student has the right to an education in a school environment where they feel safe, welcomed and included."

Julia DeWitt, Whiteaker principal, was out of town and could not be reached.

Matt Biondi, director of Middle School Education for the district, told Remy the district's ability to address student issues depends on having school staff on duty and daily contact with students and parents.

With this being summer, he said, nobody is really at the school to work on the issue — students or staff — meaning this particular incident may need to be addressed by other adults during the summer.

If not addressed, incidents like the Instagram account could lead to dangerous, if not deadly, consequences.

In a 2015 survey on student health in Oregon, almost 30 percent of middle schoolers reported being bullied within the month prior to the survey.

One out of every four students, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, reports being bullied during the school year, most often concerning their looks, race or body shape. Yet another study showed 64 percent of those bullied did not report it.

Willard said bullying is a large contributor to Oregon's high absenteeism rate, among many other things, and can result in suicide. She gave the example of a student in San Antonio, Texas who was cyberbullied. His parents approached the school, which said because it didn't happen on school grounds, it wasn't something they could address.

After the boy committed suicide, the parents fought to see Texas legislation changed to include cyberbullying.

Other states, such as New York, are following suit to update their statutes.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

© 2017 KGW-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment