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posted: 10/2/2013 2:06 PM

Editorial: Going online to combat bullying

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If you've ever been victimized by a bully, you know what an awful, gut-wrenching feeling that is. It can come in the form of name-calling and mean jokes or of being the target of rumors. It may involve threats and verbal attacks, or even the physical abuse of being hit and pushed around.

Regardless of the method, bullying replaces the joy and excitement of going to school or just being a kid with a powerless, helpless feeling no one should have to endure. Factor in cyberattacks on the Internet and social media and the abuse grows instantly and exponentially.

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School officials often strive to intervene and combat the problem, but they can't be everywhere all the time, making it critical that incidents of bullying are reported.

As a Monday story by the Daily Herald's Russell Lissau showed, getting students to make reports of bullying has become an important aspect of many schools' efforts to stop the behavior. Most require written or emailed complaints, but some have set up special forms on their websites to make it easier for students and parents to file reports. Often, they are anonymous.

They're always valuable.

So far this year, Libertyville's Highland Middle School has received 20 complaints about possible bullying through its online form, involving more than a dozen different concerns. That compares to one complaint on paper.

"(The online form is) the most effective communications (tool) for our audience," Assistant Principal Lorenzo Cervantes told Lissau. "We need to reach them where they're at."

For that reason, all schools should consider adding similar forms to their websites as a tool in addressing a problem that's been in the national spotlight -- for understandable reasons. A 2009 National Center for Education Statistics report indicated 28 percent of sixth- through 12th-graders experienced bullying.

Some suburban school officials say the online forms have led to more bullying complaints being filed, and while not every reported case constitutes bullying, each one does provide an opportunity to address social situations that need attention.

Granted, the online forms are not a perfect solution, especially not on their own. It is not enough just to report incidents; they also have to be followed up, and if they're not, they can actually make an individual problem worse. Experts note that to be effective, all the reports must be thoroughly investigated by school officials to eliminate false complaints and to determine if the unwanted behavior is actually bullying.

We agree. Any school that uses this tool also has an obligation to probe every complaint and take appropriate action.

We all know what bullying is. We all know it shouldn't be part of a child's school experience. Online reporting can add one more tool to help ensure it won't be.

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