Washington, Oregon take steps to squelch cyber bullies

Two Pacific Northwest states have taken significant steps to control cyber bullying, which involves threats or taunts sent electronically.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill May 9 requiring the state’s school systems to amend their bullying policies to include electronic acts. Districts would work with the state superintendent’s office and the Washington State School Directors’ Association to create these new policies. Schools also are required to educate parents about cyber bullying.

Officials with many school districts say they will be distributing information about cyber bullying both on paper–in student handbooks–and electronically through their web sites and school newsletters.

“We have a responsibility to help students navigate this new cyber world and stay safe,” said Peter Rex, an Olympia School District spokesman.

In Oregon, a similar measure sailed through the state House, passing by a 56-0 vote on May 7. The bill defines cyber bullying as the use of an electronic communication device to harass, intimidate, or bully, and it requires the state’s schools to enact policies prohibiting such practices.

But neither Oregon nor Washington has banned malicious posts and videos created when students are off school property; Oregon’s bill would apply only to posts “on or immediately adjacent to school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school-provided transportation, or at any official school bus stop.”

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, said the legislation as it stands was “just a small step in an area that is evolving.”

Whether schools can regulate cyber bullies when they aren’t on school property touches on freedom-of-speech issues, said Bonamici, a lawyer and parent of a teenager.

Computer snafu leads to lost data for some 700 students

A computer malfunction has caused the loss of academic data for hundreds of Eastern New Mexico University students.

Technical experts say the temperature increased in a room at the Roswell, N.M., campus that houses a server, causing the server to crash in late April. A backup system also failed.

“Anybody can have these problems,” said school President Steven Gamble. “We just were not prepared nearly as well as we should have been.”

The WebCT course-management system housed on the server was back up by May 4, but most of the data were not recovered, said Wendel Sloan, the university’s director of media relations.

About 700 students were enrolled in the system, which is used to conduct online courses, class discussions, and store grades and turn in assignments.

“Some of [the students] might have lost a term paper turned in, but in the worst-case scenario, some of the professors lost everything they had for the course,” Gamble said.

Sloan said a majority of the professors have enough data to reconstruct students’ grades. Gamble said students whose grades cannot be recovered either through the system or a paper trail will receive an A for the course. Students also will receive full credit for any assignments that cannot be found, he said.

Lauren Wilson, a graduating senior, said the server crash should serve as a reminder for students to save their work.

Official: Malicious online videos are hurting teachers

At a national teachers’ conference in Great Britain, British Education Secretary Alan Johnson said he’s concerned about the impact that embarrassing videos appearing on YouTube and similar web sites are having on teachers.

Johnson was referring to clips such as a recent YouTube posting that showed a teacher stumbling around the front of the classroom in his underwear, his pants pulled down to his ankles by a student, the image captured by a cell-phone camera.

Speaking about new government guidelines in the U.K. for confiscating mobile phones and other devices that are used to film malicious videos in the classroom, Johnson said the online harassment of teachers is causing some to consider leaving the profession, “because of the defamation and humiliation they are forced to suffer.”

However, he said, web sites that host student-made videos also must act.