Johnston County schools expanding policy on cyber-bullying

Posted May 3, 2012 3:35 p.m. EDT
Updated May 3, 2012 8:33 p.m. EDT

— The Johnston County Board of Education is expected to vote later this month on a measure that would toughen the district's policy on cyber-bullying.

Students are already subject to school discipline if online bullying takes place on school property, but a proposal being considered by the board would subject students to punishment if they are found to have violated school policy while off-campus.

"We take bullying very seriously," Johnston County Schools spokeswoman Terri Sessoms said. "Just as we take the safety of our students and staff very seriously."

A draft of the policy on Internet use addresses messages and posts that attack or harass students and staff members with respect to race, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

Students would also be subject to discipline for posting Internet messages that threaten violence against staff members or use lewd, obscene or sexually suggestive language or images.

It's still unclear when the policy would take effect, if it is approved, but school administrators say it would be in place before the start of school in the fall.

The board is set to vote on it at its May 14 meeting.

Sessoms said the school system has received some complaints from parents who are concerned that their children have been targeted on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Last February, two students at South Johnston High School were arrested after allegedly setting up Facebook pages and posting comments to intimidate a 15-year-old classmate.

One of the students posted that he planned to carry a gun to school to hunt down the teen.

Bernita Dunn says her 14-year-old son, William Chappell, has never experienced bullying online but she welcomes the policy.

"(Students) might be feeling like they're probably being harmed for being themselves," Dunn said. "You don't know what could be happening behind closed doors. But it's something that that needs to be looked into."

Jennifer Littlejohn, a junior at Smithfield-Selma High School, agrees.

"People do have the right to freedom of speech, however, if it poses an initial threat on someone else, I think that actions should be taken to prevent those," she said.