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9-R students create teacher-bashing tweets

Third episode moves from targeting students
A Durango High School-student created Twitter account bashes teachers with a religious slur and inferences to domestic violence and sexual assault. Durango School District 9-R is working to remove the site for its abusive statements and because it uses the copyrighted logo without permission.

Cyberbullying on social media has been happening across the country, and now, after a couple of episodes at Durango High School involving students bullying students, it’s a case of students cyberbullying teachers.

A Twitter handle established in mid-October, which contains a profanity and uses both the term 9-R and the Demons’ copyrighted logo, has a feed full of obscenities, a religious slur, accusations of inappropriate actions with students and suggestions of domestic violence regarding teachers at Durango High School. Tweets like these can damage teachers’ careers and reputations.

“Those are some pretty heavy accusations,” said Lindsay Nyquist, social media and video coordinator for Fort Lewis College. “I do a lot of teaching of college students about social media and digital presence, and the one thing I stress is that this could be part of their permanent record. Even if they delete it later, even after a second, someone could have captured a screenshot, and it could affect their ability to be admitted to college or when they’re job hunting.”

The site currently has 84 followers, many of them using their full names and photos, and several of them are involved in extracurricular activities such as sports, making them subject to both the Student and the Activities codes of conduct.

“While schools and districts cannot monitor Internet behaviors that occur off campus, not limited to social sites,” 9-R spokeswoman Julie Popp wrote in an email, “it is important that students and families know that there still could be legal actions taken against any perpetrator, and that there could also be school consequences if a school and/or its employees are targeted in the libel.”

Dan Snowberger, 9-R superintendent, said in an email that a number of actions are being taken.

“We are concerned and deeply bothered that issues like this occur on social media platforms,” he wrote. “As with any case that involves impersonation and slander, we will work with the local authorities, the social site’s administrator and our school administration to address this concern through the appropriate channels to identify and prosecute the individuals, if necessary. We are actively working to address the social media regulations that these accounts violate and will pursue all opportunities within these guidelines to cease these activities and identify the culprits.”

The school district in both of the previous cyberbullying cases was able to have the sites removed, mostly for impersonation – illegally using the school’s logo – and abusive content.

“The fact that people think cyberbullying happens only at Durango High School is laughable,” Seth Marvin-Vanderryn, a news editor at the school’s El Diablo newspaper, wrote last spring after the second episode, “DHS Gossip,” was reported. “Cyberbullying happens all over – thousands of schools have pages like this.”

The school district tries to address the problem and educate students on responsible social media usage in several ways, Popp said in another email.

“Some of these avenues include elements covered within the school health curricula,” she wrote, “programs and services offered from outside agencies, onsite clubs like the (Prejudice Action Elimination Team) and No Place for Hate and through programs such as Keys to High School Success.”

But Nyquist said a lot of responsibility falls on parents.

“For parents, the same as they need to have talks about alcohol and sex, they need to have talks about social media, how important it is, how permanent it is,” she said. “In my era, we passed notes in class, and they were private unless the teacher intercepted them. Now, with social media, everything’s public right away.”

The only real authority the district or the college has to ask that a site be taken down is misuse of the logo, Nyquist said.

“The only thing we can do is make our site look like the legitimate one,” she said. “But I always report them for going against what social media stands for just to get it on the record.”

Two other student-made Twitter sites, both of which have been dormant for at least eight months, refer to things two DHS coaches say and use profanity in the handles. They do not use the copyrighted DHS logo.

The school district told the Herald earlier Thursday, when the newspaper pursued the story because it is cyberbullying, that they believe media coverage validates the behavior and encourages copycats.

“We regret that The Durango Herald chooses to highlight these activities in their paper and as a result is party to the slander,” Snowberger said in his email.

abutler@durangoherald.com

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