The days of bullies on the playground aren't over, but the bullies have moved behind digital screens and keyboards.
Like methods of communication before them, e-mail and texting can be abused to send and receive inappropriate messages. The act is labeled "cyberbullying" or "sexting" in the Natrona County School District anti-bullying policy approved by the school board Monday night. The state Legislature required all school districts to pass a policy by Dec. 31.
The policy includes hazing and harassment and extends to electronic means with cyberbullying and "sexting." Sexting could be defined as electronically sending anything of a sexual nature to someone who would find it offensive, said Marty Wood, director of the district's safe schools office.
There is no federal or legal definition of sexting, said Kathleen Dixon, attorney for the school board. The policy definition came from several attorneys' definitions.
"The point here is any type of intentional electronic communication done with the intent to harm, to embarrass, to demean," Dixon said. "It's not just sexting -- it's the behavior, it’s the attitude that we’re focusing on. Our focus is to change the behavior, not to make kids criminals."
Students caught sexting could receive one to 10 days of suspension or expulsion, said Wood. Law enforcement would decide whether a student should be charged with a sexual offense.
"We take it pretty seriously because we don't think that's OK, that's acceptable -- that someone can be victimized that way," Wood said.
He said electronic offenses are the biggest problem right now and that the office deals with incidents on a weekly basis. Students used the district e-mail system to send inappropriate messages to people they might not know but can see are online. The district has not kept track of cyberbullying but will start next semester when the new policy goes into effect. Sexting would have been recorded under "sexual harassment" and the district recorded 120 cases in 2008, said Wood.
The district will gather specific data about cyberbullying as part of a project with the University of Hawaii. Data from Wyoming, along with data from Virginia and California, will be used to improve education about the topic.
The policy extends to volunteers who have "substantial contact" with students. The district has not yet defined an amount or conditions for that contact. All district employees will receive a copy of the policy before Jan. 1 and the district plans to begin thorough training in fall 2010.
Reach education reporter Jackie Borchardt at (307) 266-0593 or at email@example.com. Read her education blog at tribtown.trib.com/reportcard