Q&A: How to handle bullying in class, online

While cyberspace bullying isn't a new concept, it keeps surfacing in schools due to the popularity of social media, like Facebook. To help reduce problems, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District plans to hold an Internet safety class for parents from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Davis Magnet School, 1015 Arlington Drive, Costa Mesa. For more information, call (714) 424-7930.

Last week, at the Board of Education meeting, Rebecca L. Bishai, the district's director of student services, outlined some of the progress being made to prevent bullying in the district's schools.

The following is a Q-and-A interview with Bishai, who's been with the district for more than a decade. She first served as a high school guidance counselor at Estancia High School from 1997-2000 before becoming assistant principal there from 2000-03. From 2003-08, she was the principal of the district's adult education program before she was promoted to director of student services.

What is the most important thing that both parents and students ought to know about bullying, whether it's in the classroom or on Facebook?

We want all students to know that they can always seek the help of adult if they need it, and that they can also seek the help of teachers if they need it. Parents should also get involved. If everybody is aware of an issue, it's a lot easier to stop it before it gets out of control. Increased education and awareness are the first steps. And remember this: Any kind of bullying is unacceptable. If it happens to just one child, it's happened to one too many.

Could you give an example of an instance where a school helped a student recently by knowing about the issue?

Yes, there was a kindergartner who was afraid to go to school because a boy kept picking on him and shoving him around at school. He started to tell his mother that he had a "tummy ache" and that he wasn't feeling well and didn't want to go. When we found out that the real reason he had a tummy ache was because he was actually being bullied, we talked to the parents, and the student who was bullying, and got to the bottom of it. The student, because he was so young, didn't even realize the extent of his actions. And the boy's tummy ache, well it got miraculously better, and in two days, he was back at school.

That's a nice example of how prevention helps, but what about the older students who are committing bullying on the Internet and aren't so easily persuaded? Do you think cyber-bullying is impossible to prevent in this day and age and that parents should just take Facebook away from them?

I get asked that question all the time, and the answer is "No." That would only be a disservice to our children who use the Internet as a tool. It's good for their education, but this is a technology-driven world, so it's up to us to teach our children good judgment. It's up to the adults. We have a role to play, and I tell them that it's important that they play it well. They have to exemplify "model behavior," which means be careful about what they themselves post on Facebook. But we would never want to take anything away from the students that serves as a tool for education and instruction. It's all about the modeling and monitoring. Those are two key words to think about.

What exactly can the district do, if anything, if something is posted on Facebook and it borders on bullying?

The nexus at times can be difficult to draw. But in the end, the district can only do something about it if it's during school hours, occurs on school campus and a school computer is being used. As well, it needs to have the potential of causing a disruption on campus as it relates to the education of the children.

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