School Officials Take Tougher Cyberbullying Stance

Dirlene Wheeler-- Photo by Pat Blair

Sheridan County School District 2 is seeking a state law this week authorizing intervention by law enforcement in cases of cyberbullying.

District 2 trustees authorized the action at their meeting late last month, at the request of Trustee Rich Bridger. Bridger will ask for a resolution from the Wyoming School Boards Association during an annual conference this week.

Cyberbullying was described by school officials as use of the internet to intimidate others. And while incidents of cyberbullying in District 2 schools have been sporadic, Sheridan High School Principal Dirlene Wheeler says it became an issue earlier this year when a hate site on Facebook disturbed many of the students. Wheeler said the anonimously created site posted insults and urged people to commit suicide.

The principal talked about possible effects of cyberbullying.

The principal said school and district officials monitored the site for about two weeks “trying to put out fires.” She said one of her assistant principals spent a majority of his time investigating the site. In the end, she said, she and other high school personnel gathered 137 students who had participated by posting on the site.

School councilors talked to the students, explaining to them that it was basically a hate site. Wheeler said not all of those students in fact posted hate messages on the site. Some were trying to mitigate problems caused by others. She said out of the more than 900 students in the high school, less than 40 were involved in actual bullying.

She said some students were disciplined because of their involvement. Wheeler said what District 2 is seeking with the cyberbullying resolution is to give law enforcement officers the tools they need to find and prosecute students who engage in the activity.

She said Wyoming has a state law against cyberbullying. “But the existing law doesn't have much teeth in it.” She added police and attorneys need to have the right to access cyberbullying sites and find the perpetrators.

Wheeler said the majority of students at Sheridan High School – “well over 80 percent” – are appalled by cyberbullying. “I've got fantastic kids,” she said. “They don't want to be known as the 'hate generation'.”