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Originally published Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 4:38 PM

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Zero tolerance for cyberbullies

Suspensions of 28 students at McClure Middle School in Seattle offers a vivid lesson for those with a mean streak and those striving to maintain safe learning environments.

BRAVO to the principal at McClure Middle School in Seattle who suspended 28 students for bullying a classmate on the Internet.

Cyberbullying has become a pervasive element in schools, a tool used by students with a mean streak and a need for an anonymous haven to hide.

McClure, like all Seattle Public Schools, has a zero-tolerance bullying policy. Cruel remarks and threats posted online may be someone's idea of free speech but they violate school safety policies.

In addition to swift action and a zero-tolerance policy, the principal plans student assemblies and parent meetings about appropriate use of the Internet. Parent leaders at McClure back the principal's holistic approach.

Cases of bullying are on the rise in Washington state. Educators grapple with the question of how far to intervene particularly if the cyberbullying occurs during nonschool hours on home computers. In the McClure incident, students "friended" a Facebook page that targeted a student. Once news of the page made its way to the school, the principal rightly stepped in to ensure a safe and nondisruptive learning environment.

Students were suspended from two to eight days depending on the level of their involvement in the cyberbullying. The fact that there were so many students underscores the mob mentality that often accompanies misbehavior. Good for this principal for being able to distinguish between a "lol" on a Facebook page and youthful cruelty that threatened the safety and mission of her school.

The state Legislature has pondered anti-cyber bullying laws in the past. Online misdeeds from sex texting to harassing students via text messaging underscore the challenges of technology's growing acceptance and use in and out of school.

A legislative effort to require districts to collect data on these incidents could be useful in making informed policy down the road. Still the most effective way school administrators can address cyberbullying is to take a page from McClure.

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