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Looney speaks frankly about Twitter cyber bullying

Increases in cases of cyber bullying through Twitter have Williamson County school officials concerned, so much so that a press conference was held this morning to outline the situation and offer possible solutions to quell the problem.
“There has been a recent uptick in the amount of activity of kids saying inappropriate things on Twitter, which is becoming a tremendous distraction in the classroom,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney. “Some kids are saying that they do not feel safe at school.”
An automated message was sent to parents across the district last night alerting them to the issue in an effort to better educate them about the problem.
“I feel that it is my duty to educate and inform parents and the greater community about the activity,” Looney said. “Cyber bullying will not be tolerated. I will be tenacious in the pursuit to clear this matter."
Communications Director Carol Birdsong Director delivered the notice to parents on behalf of Looney.
“We hope that you take a moment to talk with your child about these sites,” Birdsong said. “Please talk with your child about appropriate social media use, and please help us keep all students safe.”
Some students created Twitter accounts targeting certain students, groups, schools, teachers and even the superintendent for the purpose of cyber bullying, as well as for posting inappropriate language, messages about drug use, and sexually explicit content officials said. 
These Twitter accounts [some of which have been deleted by users] include “@GossipWilco,“ “@wcsconfess,” “@wilcohookups,” and “@wilcoblackouts.” 
Messages posted include threats, inappropriate language, and “things that parents would not be proud of,” Looney said.
“We recognize that we have a problem and that students have access to tools [via Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative] for inappropriate behavior and activity,” Looney said. “The more that we are transparent and monitor our children, the more we are able to create a safe community.”
Looney added, “This is not a school system problem, this is a societal problem that we all have to face together.”
“It’s important to understand that this is not only happening in WCS,” Birdsong said. “It’s happening in other districts [locally] and around the nation.”
Looney has called parents personally to inform them of their children’s activity and will continue to do so when identified.
An exact number of students participating in cyber bullying and inappropriate social media use could not be identified, Looney said but “hundreds” of students are following dozens of inappropriate accounts.
Looney said that district officials are searching for inappropriate accounts and identifying users when caught. However, he said that users delete their accounts when “busted” but will create another account under a different name. Looney stressed the importance of parent involvement in their children’s social media activity. 
Difficulty arises when students go against district policy and connect with 3G networks outside of the district. Users become difficult to track.

“This is an opportunity to address digital citizenship,” Looney said.

Looney also said that school-based consequences have already been initiated.
“We have already placed some students in the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) and will continue to take corrective action with others,” Looney said.
By policy and law, if an incident [bullying] happens off school grounds but interferes with the school day, the district must act to protect students, Looney said. 
No criminal charges have been filed, but he added:
“We always refer suspected criminal activity to law enforcement,” Looney said, regarding communications he has had with Franklin Police Department about the issue. 
“Cyber bullying is just as damaging to peers as hitting with a stick.
“The Internet is a very powerful tool to be used for good or bad,” Looney said. “Unfortunately some of our students don’t have the maturity to use it appropriately.”
Looney vowed to protect students.
“We are declaring a war on cyber bullying. I will make a positive difference in the lives of the victims of bullying.
“We will not give up,” he said.
See a related story about an upcoming parent seminar related to this topic on this same Herald eblast.

Posted on: 2/6/2014


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