Last week, the Burroughs girls’ soccer team dropped two games to its crosstown rivals, the Burbank Bulldogs. Some wrongly blamed the losses on the school’s decision to suspend three players for the Pacific League finale on February 9 after they had directed obscenities and even made threats — including one confirmed incident where a player made threats on Facebook — towards a member of the Burbank team.
The next day, the two teams met again in a match-up to determine who would earn the fourth and final guaranteed playoff spot out of the league. Two players were reinstated but one player remained ineligible to play because she remained suspended from school. Amongst the distraction, Burroughs fell to Burbank, 2-1. Again, at least a few grumbles and rants were heard on the west side of town near the Burroughs campus.
Hours earlier, another Pacific League school was scrambling to deal with a much bigger loss; the loss of a young life. A sophomore at Crescenta Valley High School had jumped from a campus roof top to his death. He was 15. Reports had surfaced by the weekend that the student was a victim of bullying. Funeral services were held yesterday. This tragedy should put things into real perspective for all of us.
We love our sports for the way they at times mirror life, but they are not life. In acting as educational leaders and as adults who must set the example for nearly 3,000 students on the Burroughs campus, the school officials did the only sensible thing.
Having worked with the administration at Burbank High on several discipline matters this school year, I can assure you that they would have done the exact same thing had one of their students made any sort of threat towards a Burroughs student. After all, the two sites — while rivals — are also fixtures that represent the city of Burbank and the Burbank Unified School District.
As many of you know, I am a school administrator with the district. Sadly, even at the middle school level far too much of our time gets spent following parent or student reports of threats and harassment on Facebook. This is a part of our norm even after countless presentations to students and parents about the dangers out there in cyberspace. Incidents continue even though our school incorporates the “Character Counts” program as a part of our campus culture. With its 873 million users — many of which are under 18 — Facebook is the ultimate stage for peer pressure.
The elementary schools have the Peace Builders Program and the secondary schools recently formed a committee of administrators from each site determined to take action against bullying.
Jordan Middle School recently launched a campaign called STOP IT! (Stop Shoving/Teasing/Offending/Pushing/Intimidating/Teasing) aimed at stopping bullying on their campus. The campaign is led by students who are part of the STARs (Students and Teachers Against Ridicule).
Even united, the school sites and the homes face an uphill battle.
Imagine a student with 200 “friends” posting something negative about another on the site. Now imagine those 200 “friends” with “friends” of their own each commenting that they “like” what has just been posted. See how quickly a rumor, a threat or an obscene picture can spread through cyberspace?
The impact can do serious damage. That is the message parents and school officials need to continue to get out. The other reality that needs to hit home is that nothing is ever really private on the internet, which is of course public domain. Once something is posted it is out there for all to see.
Think back to your days in secondary school and then picture your class bully. What does he look like? Chances are you pictured the real-life equivalent to the character Nelson on the animated series “The Simpsons.” In your school age experience the bully was easy to spot, he was the biggest kid in the hallway trying to stuff a smaller kid into a locker.
Today, bullying comes in many forms and text messaging and social media sites are frequently used. Both are all too real and painful.
Court rulings on these issues are in their infancy, but thus far they support a school’s and district’s obligation to protect all of its students — even at the expense of the privacy of an individual. In addition, California Ed-Code has a violation on “bullying” recently expanded to include cyber bullying.
Schools can and should and must take disciplinary action for students who make threats or bully via the internet. And although disciplinary action should be taken, the other crucial piece is for the partnership between the home and school to take advantage of those teachable moments. The lesson learned last week should be that sometimes in the heat of competition in sports we forget that in the end we are all on the same team.