(LOS ANGELES) -- Rutgers University student Tyler Clemente leapt off New York’s George Washington Bridge in 2010 after his roommate secretly videotaped him kissing another man, drawing national attention to the issue of cyberbullying. A California school district suffered its own tragedy influenced by bullying when, in 2012, sophomore Drew Ferraro committed suicide in front of other students by leaping off of a building at his high school in La Crescenta, Calif.
Now, that district has hired a private company that monitors students’ social networking sites, partly as a first line of defense against cyber bullying. “We started a pilot program last year with four of our schools, three high schools and one middle school, and we were able to positively intervene on more than one account,” Glendale Unified School District Superintendent Richard Sheehan told ABCNews.com. “And with the rise of cyber bullying, school violence and students harming themselves, we feel this is a small price to pay to ensure our student’s safety, because student safety is paramount for the district.”
The company the Glendale, Calif.-based district hired, Geo Listening, claims to have clients around the world – school districts monitoring their students’ public online activities for signs of trouble. “All this useless cyber bullying is going on on social media and, unfortunately, it’s caused a lot of suicides and stuff,” Glendale High School sophomore Jared Singzon told ABC News station KABC. Sheehan said local parents have been receptive to the new initiative. However, sophomore Sausha Perry told KABC she disagreed with her school district keeping tabs on her cyber activities. “I don’t really think it’s necessary for schools to monitor it,” Perry said. Sheehan said a total of 13,000 students in his district are currently being monitored. An official with Geo Listening, which the district hired last year, told ABC News it is not trying to “spy on the kids,” but rather provide a mechanism that can assist adults in monitoring student behavior.
Geo Listening scans students’ public social media sites for thousands of regional and universal “trigger” words that could be potentially threatening, the company official said. Next, company employees review the material flagged with trigger words, draft reports and submit the reports to the school’s assigned administrators if they feel a threat has been posed. The company also has developed a free mobile application that will allow every parent and student to report bullying, threats, vandalism or other happenings on campus both anonymously and instantaneously via their cellphone, the official said. The application will be distributed by schools and districts within the next two weeks.
An official with stopbullying.gov, the federal government’s cyberbullying initiative, told ABCNews.com that while it cannot comment on any one school or district’s cyberbullying policies, it believes cyberbullying can create a disruptive environment at school and is often related to in-person bullying. The organization encourages students to keep evidence of cyberbullying by recording dates, times and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred and to report these incidences.
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