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How do we cope with student cyber-bullies?

SECONDARY teachers say they don't know how to cope with cyber-bullying that goes on outside of school hours.

Schools management and teaching staff are in a legal vacuum when it comes to the growing problem of online abuse of students and teachers.

A high-profile Dublin secondary school recently suspend ed a number of its students over allegations of bullying online.

Oatlands Secondary School suspended four students over the allegations about three teachers -- dozens more were given detention after "liking" the material on Facebook.

But it is understood that it will be difficult to expel the students on these grounds.

Orla Hughes (28), from Longford, has been teaching Home Economics and Religion for six years and said that she is aware of so-called 'hate pages' which have been set up.

"We teach in an all-girls school. It's normal for students to spend three to four hours on Facebook a night. No longer talk or text," she told the Herald.

Nasty

"Bullying through Facebook is a major problem and very hard to police. It can range from nasty comments being made to status updates to hate pages.

"For the victim, the bullying is not isolated to a certain place like the school yard but travels with them making it inescapable," Ms Hughes added.

"It also freely allows other to join in or get sucked in without feeling like they are contributing to the bullying."

Ms Hughes said teachers need to keep on top of new technology to counteract it.

"Students are ahead of many in terms of technology," she said. "We as teachers educate our students about cyber-bullying. We have an anti-bullying week which has been updated to include cyber-bullying.

"And we try to work with parents to end cyber-bullying as most of this happens outside school and is outside our control in terms of policing."

Fintan O'Mahony, an English and History teacher at Scoil Mhuire, Carrick-on-Suir, said teachers and management boards are struggling to keep up with the issues brought about by the explosion of online networking sites.

He said: "I've heard of it happening. Not so much with teachers, but with students. Schools have to start thinking how to deal with this. They need to create a policy how to deal with it.

"Teachers are on the same plane as the parents."

Mr O'Mahony said that children at 14 or 15 are "so unaware" of not protecting their Facebook settings.

clairemurphy@herald.ie


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