Cyberbullying hits Tri-Cities schools

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Bullying continues to be a big concern to many parents and kids here in the Tri-Cities. The i-SAFE foundation reports more than half of adolescents have been bullied online. And roughly the same number have been the bullies.

Schools can find it hard to track and KEPR learned punishing the offenders can be just as difficult.

This is your typical picture of bullying.

"They get bullied, called names, get picked on," said Southridge High School student Kayla Melvin.

But it's online messages like *these that are the growing face of concern -- cyberbullying. New emerging technologies and easy access to platforms like Facebook and Twitter take good ol' fashioned bullying to a whole new playfield.

'It's real easy to hide behind a computer screen and type things you normally wouldn't say face-to-face," said Carmichael Middle School Assistant Principal Dave Filipy.

"They go after girls if they say one wrong thing about something - they will attack them over it," added Melvin.

Local schools districts tell KEPR their administrators don't look at student's online profiles habitually unless something is drawn to attention. This can allow abuse to be more discreet.

REPORTER: "How do you guys keep an eye out for cyberbullying in particular?"

'You know, that's rougher for us. We don't get on to people's Facebook, so any kind of cyberbullying that comes up is by parents that have seen it and brought it to out attention," said Filipy.

The school can only take action if bullying happens on campus whether it's in-person or from a computer or phone used on campus.
In those cases kids can be suspended or even expelled.

"It's nice being backed by state law, because we can enforce those," said Filipy.

Outside of that it's up to police to see if bullying crosses the line.
In our Tri-Cities Schools cases of suspensions for bullying have dropped significantly over the years.

Kennewick had the most dramatic drop of the three biggest districts.
In the school year ending in 2011 the Kennewick School District reported suspended kids 97 times for bullying.

That number was as high as 261 bullying incidents for the school year ending in 2009.

Students appreciate the work to get rid of any negative culture.

"I just hope it quits soon," stated Melvin.

If the school is made aware of bullying off-campus the district generally takes a first step of notifying parents to make them aware.