EDITORIAL: Patrolling beyond the halls

Guilderland High School demonstrated what a proactive approach to cyberbullying can do.

High school officials acted swiftly when they were informed last week about an explicit rap video posted to YouTube by four Guilderland High School calling out members of the sophomore class by name. Within 48 hours, the students involved were suspended pending a formal review and a letter was sent to parents about the incident. Students who were affected by the video were offered counseling services. The video – which had been posted on Veterans Day, when school was not in session – was taken down by Tuesday afternoon.

While the damage done may have been mitigated somewhat by the school’s prompt action, the incident highlights how quickly cyberbullying can occur and how powerless schools are to prevent it from happening in the first place. All it takes is someone with a computer, a high-speed internet connection and a desire to take a swing at another person, whether maliciously or as a misguided prank.

Guilderland High School tries to teach students how to be “good digital citizens,” as school district Superintendent Marie Wiles said last week. She said the school has regular programs about proper internet usage, as well as anti-bullying initiatives. But if the message falls on deaf ears, then there is nothing that can be done other than to react to the incident.

The worst part about cyberbullying is that the scars are invisible. You can’t see the damage done to a child who’s been victimized by a cyberbully because it’s emotional, not physical. And those emotional scars can lead to devastating results. A couple of years ago, Guilderland brought Vermont resident John Halligan to its high school to talk about how the impact of a cyberbullying attack led his 13-year-old son, Ryan, to commit suicide in 2003. The toll of being ridiculed by students at school and online was too much for Halligan’s son to take.

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