COOS COUNTY – October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a problem faced by schools nationwide.

In a school of over 1,000 students, Marshfield High School reports only 20 to 25 bullying complaints every year. However, Vice Principal Eli Ashton is concerned about the cases not being reported.

Last year, Ashton put the Coos Bay School District’s bullying and harassment complaint sheet online for easier access. This way students can fill it out and send it in from their phones and remain more anonymous than if they had to walk into Ashton’s office to pick up a copy.

“Even though they would have stayed anonymous by asking for a complaint form, we still kind of knew because they came in,” Ashton said. “Since adapting it online, kids have been more willing to use it.”

Since putting it on the school website, last year 80 percent of bullying complaints came in through the online form.

So far this year, there have only been two bullying complaints.

“But right now is still the honeymoon phase for students, who are all still getting used to each other, so the complaints will come farther into the year,” Ashton said.

The majority of the complaints stem from conflicts that don’t always fall under bullying. According to Ashton, often students get into a conflict on social media and one of the kids goes too far.

“They don’t see how it began, but rather focus on that one incident so they describe that as bullying but it’s just a conflict that actually started months ago,” Ashton said. “One great thing about social media is we have all the information there so we can track it.”

However social media poses more problems than advantages for school districts when it comes to bullying. Last year, Marshfield administrators discovered a website called MHSsexlives where false stories were being posted about other students.

Ashton got in touch with Twitter to help take it down, and though he has had trouble getting their help in the past for more minor bullying issues, the company stepped in.

“Often it’s hard to get businesses to acknowledge that it’s ridiculous and disgusting and derogatory toward kids,” Ashton said. “That time Twitter was nice enough to take it off, but I would say the majority of issues when it comes to bullying are caused by fake webpages or accounts where we don’t know which student created them. That’s when it becomes difficult to solve because we don’t have the technology to figure out who is behind creating these things. That’s when working with companies like Twitter and Instagram comes in.”

Not only that, but when it comes to social media, school districts run into freedom of speech that sometimes protects what students are writing.

“I do worry about our unreported cases,” Ashton added. “Our eighth graders are new to campus and don’t know who to talk to, so it is common where those cases don’t get reported right away, which is why we see a spike in November and December. By then those students know who I am and are familiarized with the staff to report this stuff.”

Not only that but the younger students don’t see passing comments as bad, not realizing that those often turn into bigger issues.

“We find out about it when it’s big rather than when it’s smaller and easier to handle,” Ashton said.

During each year’s eighth grade orientation, Ashton introduces students to the school resource officer and talks about the difference between bullying and conflicts. He hopes to bring more light on the problem in October to go along with the National Bullying Prevention Month.

“It is underreported,” he said. “I think the 20 to 25 isn’t accurate.”

At North Bend High School, administration is strict when it comes to bullying and harassment. Though Principal Bill Lucero didn’t have the amount of reported cases with him during an interview with The World, he credited the low number to great students and high standards.

“Hazing, bullying and harassment is not a light matter,” Lucero said. “If you don’t follow the rules, you don’t go to our school.”

In the school handbook, the consequences for being involved in a harassment or bullying situation can lead to expulsion.

The first offense means students involved sit down to discuss the situation and try to resolve the problem. The second offense can lead to at least two In-School-Suspensions, depending on severity. The third offense means a five-day suspension.

The fourth offense is recommendation for expulsion.

“If you stand in the hall you will watch 800 kids smiling,” Lucero said. “It’s not perfect but is a great place for kids to be. I think because we are so strict, it creates a better culture and makes kids comfortable. It might not be cool to say they want administration and staff to be strict, but it makes them feel safe.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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