- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2016

An Australian high school suspended more than 50 students Thursday for being involved in social media posts the principal described as abusive to other students.

Mark McConville, the principal of Toronto High School near Newcastle, told parents Friday that he had suspended students who made inappropriate comments about their classmates on Facebook, as well as those who “liked” the posts.

The Department of Education confirmed to the Sydney Morning Herald Friday that more than 50 students had received suspensions of four days apiece, while a “small number” were suspended for up to 20 days.

“Toronto High School does not tolerate any harassment of any students,” Mr. McConville said in a letter that was shared on Facebook. “Imagine if it was your child who opened up their Facebook account to find over 50 ‘likes’ about a negative/abusive/harassing post about them.”

Parents said the incident involved a series of Facebook posts where students were encouraged to leave negative comments about their classmates. When educators got wind of the remarks Thursday, they obtained a list of students who participated and held a school-wide assembly at the end of the day to address the matter.

“They asked the students involved to step to the side… Only a couple went, they then said we have a list of who is involved so if it’s you step to [t]he side now. Over a hundred got up. They were told they would be suspended,” wrote stepmother Tammy Roskell.

The 50-plus suspensions account for about 5 percent of the student body population of the high school, among them students whose parents say educators overreacted.

“My daughter and her best friend are facing a 21-day suspension for calling each other ‘stinking,’ a private joke between the two of them,” Donna Stanbury wrote on Facebook.

Australia’s minister of education, Adrian Piccoli, issued a statement Friday supporting the school’s reaction.

“Whenever bullying occurs, students need to know that principals will take very strong disciplinary action, including involving the police where necessary,” Mr. Piccoli said.

Mr. McConville said the students involved will receive “additional support and guidance in the appropriate use of technology.”

“Talking with young people, you soon discover that the thinking that frames their actions is subject to the morals and values of growing up in an age when the mobile phone, digital camera, internet, instant access to information and transmission of images and text are ever-present,” Mr. McConville said. “It can be a complex environment for young people to navigate. They need parental guidance and support, both in the ‘real’ world and their ‘virtual’ world.

“We want to keep all students safe and support those students subject to disciplinary procedures in improving their decisions and actions in future,” he said.

In the U.S., Chubb Limited, one of the nation’s largest insurer, began offering “cyberbully insurance” last month that compensates online harassment victims up to $60,000.

“Technology has radically altered our everyday life, from how we consume information, conduct business and interact with one another,” said Christie Alderman, Chubb vice president of client product and service. “But technology’s biggest benefit — an interconnected world — can also be its biggest challenge. Cyberbullying, including online threats and harassment, can damage your or your child’s reputation, and cause financial loss and emotional harm.”

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