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School Board looks at safety: Fight bystanders discussed

Daily News Staff Writer

During Wednesday’s School Board meeting, the issues of bystanders, social media and school safety were discussed.

Superintendent Bob Boyle said that the conversation was spurred on by a fight that occurred last fall. According to Boyle, during the fight, a number of students stood around and recorded it on social media instead of intervening.

Discussion of the issue centered on what authority the school district has in regard to social media and in regard to issues like fights occurring off-campus vs. on-campus.

Boyle clarified that if a fight occurs on campus, the school has authority to punish those involved, intervene and handle the situation. But, if the fight were to occur off-campus, the district has no authority to punish those involved.

Although, if social media of that theoretical off-campus fight were to infiltrate the school and, say, a video of the fight was being passed around on campus, then the school can intervene, because the video might be construed as either harassment or a distraction to students.

“If you see that video at school now it’s an issue we deal with,” Boyle explained. “But if it’s a video everybody knows about but they're not looking at it at school, it’s not our arena at that point.”

School Board Member Diane Gubatayao said that what she found troubling was the number of students who just watched, recorded and did nothing when the fight occurred.

“We were most disturbed by the number of bystander students,” Gubatayao noted.

Wednesday’s discussion also broadened to encompass talks of overall student safety, with School Board Member Matt Eisenhower touching on the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Eisenhower proposed forming a task force that would be a collaborative effort between various groups to discuss student safety, wellness, bystanders and how/when the school district can take action in different situations.

“Maybe look at getting the district attorney involved, getting the police department involved,” Eisenhower said, “as to where they stop, where we stop, where there can be some collaboration.”

At the meeting, it also was pointed out that one area where students’ actions outside of class might have consequences is that of extracurricular activities and sports. Coaches have different policies and penalties in regard to the conduct and actions of those participating.

“Going to school is a right, participating in activities is a privilege,” School Board President Trevor Shaw said.

Boyle said that he would be surveying coaches on their individual team’s rules and procedures and would report back to the School Board at a forthcoming meeting.

Boyle told the Daily News on Friday that he would include some of those guidelines and existing rules and procedures in the agenda packet for discussion at the next School Board meeting.

In addition, Gubatayao raised the issue of “sexting.” She noted that if a student sends or distributes sexually explicit images of other students, there could be grave consequences.

“They could be charged criminally with child pornography,” Gubatayao said. “So it’s a pretty serious matter.”

Another dynamic that was raised during the discussion was the nature of bullying and harassment today, when compared to the past. School Board Member Kim Hodne said that social media has changed the way kids handle harassment and bullying in school.

“It’s not the bullying and harassment that was going on when a boy named Kim was getting harassed because of a girl’s name,” Hodne explained. “… That’s not what it is today; it’s different.”

A number of School Board members noted the “complex” nature of the issue, and overall, the general consensus seemed to be that pursuing some sort of task force would be beneficial.

Boyle expressed that just because the School Board is having these conversations, doesn’t mean that there are not already mechanisms and groups in place to help students and staff in these kinds of situations.

“I’d like to reassure some folks that we have a number of (programs) engaged already,” Boyle said. “… Ketchikan Wellness Coalition, Ketchikan Youth Initiative — various taskforces that the community has engaged in are addressing those issues.”

School Board Member Glen Thompson summed up issues regarding bystanders succinctly: “When you see something and don’t say anything — that’s when bad things happen.”