Bullying finds way into virtual classrooms

Kids who are bullied in school are also bullied online, Dept. of Public Instruction says
Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 10:28 PM CDT
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CROSS PLAINS, Wis. (WMTV) - Learning from home has not put a stop to bullying.

In some online classrooms at Glacier Creek Middle School, students are nowhere to be seen. Perry Hibner, the director of communications at the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District, described what teachers are seeing: students shutting off their Zoom cameras out of fear that others will take pictures of them and share to social media.

“I’d cry if that were happening to my child,” Berri Newberg, a parent of an eighth grader at Clinton Middle School, said. “The thought of that makes me very sad.”

She added, she was not surprised to hear of bullying in online classrooms. “My daughter just got Facebook, and she’s only added family for that reason. She doesn’t even add pictures of herself because she doesn’t want other people to use them in a cruel way.”

To move forward, Hibner said a “joint effort” is required: “I don’t know that I’d put it all on teachers because they’ve got enough things they’re dealing with. I think this is a school-wide, culture sort of thing, where we need to-- in our buildings and all districts need to-- continually have these conversations. It’s reminding the families, that even if they’re not always at home with their kids, about what the expectations should be when their child is [online].”

Beth Herman, an education consultant with the Department of Public Instruction, said anecdotes show that bullying is continuing at home. She explained, the state does not collect any information on bullying because it lacks the legislative authority.

“Students [who] engage in bullying behavior adapt to the situations they’re in to continue the behavior,” she said. “It’s a power imbalance situation, so if there’s a group of students in school who have some kind of capital-- and a lot of times its social capital-- they continue to have social capital in online environment.”

Like the DPI, the Middleton Cross Plains district urges parents to report all bullying. According to Hibner, Glacier Creek Middle has received zero complaints of cyberbullying through the online tool “Speak Up. Stay Safe!”

Hibner said that under current policy, students in the district can keep their Zoom cameras off if they don’t feel comfortable with it on. Reasons may include feeling embarrassed about showing their homes to their classmates.

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