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Punishment for posting fight video harsh, father says

May 08, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Chris Dye doesn't believe his daughter deserved to be suspended from Musselman Middle School this week for posting video footage of a campus fight on YouTube.

"Schools do need to address technology issues, but they do need to do it in line with the Constitution," Dye said.

Dye asked that his 13-year-old daughter's name not be published out of concern for her safety.

The girl, who is an honor roll student, initially was suspended Monday for two days, but she was allowed to return after one day because Dye notified school officials and asked to talk to the school board, he said.

School principal James J. Holland told Dye in a voice-mail message that his daughter's decision to post the video clip, dubbed with the heavy metal rock song "Bodies" by Drowning Pool, caused more problems after the fight was over last week.

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"Because of that, we have several students that are now threatening and causing some problems for one of the students in the fight," Holland said in the message, which Dye provided to The Herald-Mail.

"Unfortunately for this child, now other people are trying to go ahead and pick up where that left off," Holland added.

The 41-second video clip, titled "dillon and aj," shows at least a couple of punches being thrown, but little physical contact between two boys next to the Inwood, W.Va., school's football field. A female voice recorded on the raw video footage provided by Dye can be heard saying "this is going on YouTube."

Holland told the girl's parents in the voice-mail message he learned about the video of the after-school fight by parents of students involved in the scuffle.

"I could have (suspended her) for three (days), in fact I could have done it for cyber bullying," which would have been a 10-day suspension -- automatically -- and a possible referral to the alternative school," Holland said in the message. "But I don't believe (her) intent was to go ahead and try to cause all this problem ..."

Holland on Friday, citing confidentiality and privacy rules, would not comment about what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against the two participants in the fight.

Holland acknowledged technology issues have been "very difficult" for school officials to address.

As defined by the school district's student handbook, cyber bullying is "the use of an electronic device to intentionally demean, intimidate or humiliate another individual or group through any manner of communication, at any time of the day or night, that negatively impacts school climate, creates conflict between students, or contributes to a hostile learning environment."

George P. Michael, director of pupil services for Berkeley County Schools, said he could not discuss disciplinary action taken by school administrators, but indicated he talked with Dye.

The school board added the definition of cyber bullying to the district's student handbook in February, said Michael, who noted the new type of harassment is more prevalent among the county's middle-school students than in high schools.

"Any school you're going to talk to is going to have cyber bullying. We've had experts come in and even work with our counselors as far as bullying, harassment, cyber bullying," Michael said. "It's easy when you don't have to look somebody in the face."

School officials are looking at possibly replacing individual school policies on students' mobile phone use on campus with a districtwide ban.

"We're looking at (adopting) one because it's becoming an ever-increasing (problem)," Michael said.

"We're concerned about cheating, we're concerned about all kinds of things," said Michael, demonstrating how students apparently text friends while appearing to be paying attention in class.

"They're good," he said.

Dye said his daughter lost her MySpace page for breaking the family's "house rules" for Internet safety when she posted the video without first clearing it with him and his wife.

But Dye still questions the punishment his daughter received for doing something on her own time at home.

"There is civil rights issues that need to be addressed," Dye said.

When asked what he would have told his daughter if she showed him the video before posting it, Dye said he probably would have told her it was "junk" because of the picture quality and not to post it.

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