July 2, 2012

Arizona cyberbullying guidelines expanded

School districts in Arizona must teach cyberbullying awareness, monitor online chats and keep tabs on social media in schools starting this week as part of a beefed-up Children's Internet Protection Act.

With the school year still a month away for most districts, several school boards have made changes to their decades-old policies and get discounts of as much as 90 percent on their telecommunication bills.

The Peoria Unified School District recently expanded its policy to comply with the new guidelines from the Federal Communications Commission.

"And we hold an Internet-safety week where cyberbullying is addressed," said Erin Dunsey, spokeswoman for the Peoria district.

Mesa Public Schools, the largest district in the state with 64,000 students, also requires students to attend anti-bullying awareness classes, which include rules against harassing students online at school.

In the coming school year, the district is teaming up with researchers at Arizona State University in a program about the best ways to reduce bullying, said Paul Boyer, spokesman for Mesa Public Schools.

The district will spend $2.8 million on Internet access and telecommunications. The expenditure comes after a 75 percent e-rate discount for compliance with CIPA.

"School districts have additional responsibilities now with the Internet, but they knew this was coming," said Mel Van Patten with Oklahoma-based Kellogg & Sovereign Consulting, which helps schools qualify for the telecom discount. "It's not a huge surprise to many of these school districts."

A lot is at stake: School districts can save 20 percent to 90 percent on their telecommunications bills with the discount.

"For smaller districts, this could mean the difference between having Internet access or not," Van Patten said.

The firm recently sent a reminder to its clients about complying with the expanded requirements. It also recommends districts keep a copy of their curriculum to prove they are addressing cyberbullying.

The Arizona School Boards Association sent a recommended policy with suggested changes to its member school boards.

The Glendale Elementary School District adopted the revisions in April, although the district had already required students to learn about cyberbullying and acceptable computer uses, spokesman Jim Cummings said.

"It's not a big change for us because we've been teaching a lot of these things for years," he said.

The district receives an 89 percent discount off its telecommunications bill. The e-rate is based on the number of students -- 90 percent -- who participate in the district's free and reduced-priced lunch program.

The Chandler Unified School District, the second-largest in the Valley with 40,000 students, receives a smaller discount. It expects to shave $600,000 off its telecommunications bill after it amended its policy Wednesday to comply with the new CIPA requirements.

"With the gamut of social media, children can be bullied 24/7," said Jeff La Benz, assistant director of instructional technology.

The district will use videos and other lessons to teach appropriate ways to behave and interact with others.

"The CIPA update seems to spell it out now because cyberbullying and bullying has been in the news so much," La Benz said.

by Kerry Fehr-Snyder - Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 AM The Republic | azcentral.com

Arizona cyberbullying guidelines expanded

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