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Huntley’s student newspaper helps take down cyber bullying content on Facebook

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Read the editorial by Huntley High School students at the Voice online at huntleyvoice.com.

Updated: December 24, 2012 6:56AM



HUNTLEY — Memes can be funny when they involve Tumblrs full of captions pasted over Ryan Gosling’s face, bemused Olympic gymnasts, texting secretaries of state or binders full of women.

But the staff of the Voice, the student newspaper at Huntley High School, recognized right away there was nothing funny about the memes posted on a Facebook page that popped up in students’ newsfeeds recently.

Memes on the page, called “L.I.T.H./Huntley Memes,” included about 20 to 25 images of Consolidated School District 158 students with “inappropriate” captions, disparaging those students’ weight and ethnicity, among other things, according to Michael Geheren, digital editor in chief of the Voice.

“The content was vulgar and rude,” Geheren said. “The administrator in charge of the page was rude towards the students. There were a few people who sent messages to the page, and he publicly posted and humiliated them.”

So the newspaper staff did what a newspaper staff will do. They published an editorial online calling out the Facebook page for what it was — “cyber bullying in its most obvious form” — and appealing to Huntley students with details about the page and its administrators to report them to District 158’s tip line.

And after the tip line received several calls about it over the past weekend, District 158 Associate Superintendent Terry Awrey said, the page was deleted from Facebook by Sunday night.

“The whole system worked all the way around, and I give Michael a lot of credit for having the courage to stand up for his fellow students,” Awrey said.

Geheren said the Voice staff was at a journalism conference in Texas when they decided to write the editorial. In it, they affirmed their support for the First Amendment’s freedom of speech but, they wrote, “we believe this is a blatant abuse of this right.”

First, they told their teacher about the memes on the page, who sent it to the school’s counselors, deans, social workers and resource officer with the Huntley Police Department.

Not only was that page quickly deleted, but also a copycat page that popped up on Facebook not long after, according to Awrey.

The district just updated its bullying policy in April to include “any activity that interferes or interrupts the school environment,” he said. That includes activity on- and off-campus, he added.

And, he said, that makes cyber bullying “a high-level offense” that, depending what was said, could be punished with an in-school suspension or expulsion from the district.

“It’s not something we take lightly,” he said.

One of the pages was created by a former student who no longer attends school in District 158, Awrey said. The district has “a good idea” who started the copycat page not long after, and Huntley’s dean of students now is investigating that, he said.

But, he said, “the hurt feelings and humiliation and harassment still are there.”

Those students who were bullied by the pages’ creators were told about it by school counselors and social workers, and the parents of those who appeared “upset or distraught in any way” also were notified, he said.

As the staff of the Voice noted, if people have any details about the page or any other incident involving bullying in District 158, they should report it to the district’s tip line at 847-659-INFO (4636). And if you are a student affected by bullying and need to talk to someone, don’t hesitate to contact the free, 24-hour McHenry County Crisis line at 800-892-8900.



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