Safe schools conference

Safe schools conference

‘Surviving’ cyberbullying

‘Surviving’ cyberbullying

By Jennifer Wohlleb
Staff Writer

Students may use their personal electronic devices outside of school, but that doesn’t mean educators should ignore cybersafety and Internet bullying, a school safety expert says.

“If (students) don’t feel safe, they will not learn. If mama doesn’t think they’re safe, they will not come to school,” said Karen McCuiston, whose high-energy “Cyber Survivor” luncheon presentation kept educators on their feet at last month’s 17th annual Safe Schools, Successful Students conference in Louisville. More than 300 people attended the Kentucky Center for Safe Schools- and KSBA-sponsored event.

Photo: Kentucky Center for Safe Schools Consultant Karen McCuiston was all energy and passion as she spoke about cyberbullying during a main session during the 17th annual Safe Schools, Successful Students Conference.

With almost half of all U.S. students reporting they have been affected by cyberbullying, she urged her audience to remember three things and teach them to their students: surf smart, share less and think first.

“The first time I saw that Facebook would be the third-largest nation in the world (if it were a country) I thought, ‘Whoa,’” said McCuiston, the postsecondary component director for the Kentucky Center for School Safety. “We’ve got to teach these kids differently because they have grown up in this virtual world. To navigate it, we have to teach them some skills.”
She said in the ever-changing world of technology, the Internet safety lessons from just a few years ago are no longer enough.

“Students come into your school and you have filters and monitors (on your computers) and you think, ‘I’m all ready. They can’t see this word and they can’t see that word,’” she said. “But they’re taking Spanish and they know that word in another language so they can go see it in another language. Or they have a data package in their pocket that you didn’t know about.”

She said the anonymity and immediacy of computers and mobile devices make cyberbullying easy.

“What does cyberbullying look like?” McCuiston asked. “It can be websites where someone says, let’s rank our teachers, let’s rank the kids at our school, the prettiest girls, the ugliest girls. Someone takes your information and uses it to write something ugly. If someone sends a private message and that someone forwards it on to others, if you’re friends today, you’re not friends tomorrow.”

McCuiston played several public service announcements that even more starkly illustrated what cyberbulllying looks like as well as the dangers the cyberworld presents. In one PSA, a young girl got on stage in her school’s auditorium and read a list of nasty comments about a fellow student as she and the rest of the school looked on. The message: If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it online.

In another commercial, a young teen posted a provocative photo of herself online, thinking it would be seen by only a few people. As she walked through her day, complete strangers – ranging from young boys to men – complimented her on the photo and asked for more, demonstrating that nothing online is private.

“We’re teachers and educators,” McCuiston said. “We’ve got to educate our students and parents about this stuff. It’s not a game. You can’t just say, ‘Oops, I was ignorant of it.’ That doesn’t cut it.”

She said in these situations, educators need to ask: Did the school do enough?

“As educators, we’ve got to be consistent, we’ve got to monitor, we’ve got to investigate every report,” she said. “Update your policies. You can’t just say, ‘What happens on our devices...’ because now they have data packages in their pockets. They’re not (just) your devices anymore. What’s happening is on their devices and their systems, but it’s happening in your schools.”

She urged educators to be vigilant because cyberbullying has become a matter of life and death.

“Twenty-five students a year take their own lives because they are harassed, because they are cyberbullied so much that they can’t take another day and take their own lives,” she said. “Kids are killing themselves. This stuff is curable ... it’s not cancer, it’s not car wrecks, it’s just words but they’re killing our kids. It’s as devastating as gunshots.”

– For more information about preventing cyberbullying or to access links and download the materials from McCuiston’s presentation, click here.

Planning for the worst to respond the best

By Jennifer Wohlleb
Staff Writer

School safety isn’t something to worry about only in the hours between first bell and dismissal for the day. Whether it’s the classroom, a bus ride, a football game or a prom at the local country club, educators must have a safe schools plan to protect everyone involved.

“In schools we’re usually in a reactive stance, so it pays us to get a little ahead and start thinking about what could possibly happen,” said Cyril Wantland, a retired Jefferson County schools educator and a consultant with the Kentucky Center for School Safety.
Wantland and Kentucky State Police Capt. James Stephens led a workshop on event safety at the Safe Schools, Successful Students Conference last month.

They encouraged educators to follow their own three R’s: readiness, response and recovery.

“What do you do to prepare, what kind of plan do you have in place should an event occur, and how do you get back to doing business as normal,” Wantland asked. “Those are the three big issues you have to worry about, those are the three big issues you should focus your planning around.”

Schools are required by federal mandate to have a school safety plan, but Wantland urged districts to go about it smartly.

“Plan for what’s likely to happen in your district,” he said. “I wouldn’t waste time planning for a response to a tsunami in Glasgow, but if you’re in Bardwell and you sit on a fault line, you should plan for an earthquake response.”

Stephens urged educators to involve all of the players in the community who would respond in some type of incident.

“Don’t forget your janitors,” he said. “I say that everywhere I go because they are usually one of the most forgotten groups out there. Who knows your facilities better than them? Make sure they’re in your planning sessions, too.”

Training is another area that can often be overlooked in planning for an event response, Stephens said.

“Know what your role is,” Stephens said. “That’s what I see is the biggest failure; people just don’t know what their role is. We take for granted that people understand a lot of things …  if you do not tell people exactly what to do in the event of an emergency, they will not do it.”

He said faculty meetings are good time to share information, go over responsibilities and assign duties.

“If someone can’t be there, e-mail the information,” Stephens said. “Before the big event, football game, homecoming, share the things people need to watch for, be aware of; review exits and evacuation routes, perimeters. What if you have a student who hates the football team and you have a big game coming up. Don’t you think the people who are going to be there should know about that?”

Stephens said that even after small events, educators should conduct after-action events.

“I always tell people ‘No feelings hurt. Leave your feelings at the door,” he said. “I learned this from a guy who does security: on an after-action review, use the 2x2 theory. Come in with two positive points and two negative points and let everyone share. If you don’t you’ll have someone come in and grandstand.”

Wantland said having the local fire department observe a school’s fire drill is a simple way to try that technique.

“Let them come back and give your whole staff, not just you, things that you did well, things that didn’t go quite as well as they should but you can tweak them, and things that didn’t go well at all that you need to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

Stephens said a little prevention will go a long way.

“The bottom line is this: you’re going to have snowball dances and proms coming up: how much time is spent making sure the flowers match, the tablecloths match?” he asked. “But how little time do we spend sending someone into the location to do a pre-event assessment? These are things you have to look at. Are there fire extinguishers? Have they been inspected? Are the exit lights lit? I could go through a whole list. Just make sure someone does an advance.”

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