News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

School grapples with online behavior

The challenge of distance learning took an ugly twist as some seventh- and eighth-graders at Sisters Middle School recently experienced three separate incidents of students using racially and sexually charged language during classes being conducted through Zoom.

Families first heard of the incidents through an email letter from principal Alison Haney that was followed later by a second letter that clarified, to some extent, what had taken place.

The initial letter focused on the acts being racist in nature and was strongly worded, including referring to the incident as an “assault.” The second letter provided more context and information.

While school personnel could not share specific information due to an ongoing investigation into the incidents, principal Alison Haney and Vice Principal Tim Roth acknowledged and defined the situation to some degree, and included some of the actions taking place to get to the bottom of what happened.

Results of the investigation will help school officials decide how to further intervene on those responsible and to help ensure that similar incidents don’t happen again.

Haney and Roth’s letter indicated that the language was “beyond inappropriate.”

The investigation includes work on the part of the technology department to determine the user(s) responsible for the incidents.

Further response by the school will include providing counselor and staff support for students affected by the incidents as well as working as a staff to help problem-solve in order to mitigate any such occurrences from happening again.

The letter said, “We are exploring every possible way of keeping our students as safe as possible in this digital realm.”

Haney said in the second letter, “I’m not so naive as to think that this will be the last event of technological misuse, but I do believe we must send a clear message to our students, both from home and school, about appropriate use and its consequences at home, school, and in life.”

The letter included a message focused on using this situation as a learning experience in order to thwart incidents like these by understanding points, “such as speaking up when inappropriate behavior occurs, standing up for others, understanding that actions have real consequences, differentiating between what is a so-called joke and what is not, what discriminatory and harassing words are, the permanency of online actions, and many others.”

Haney wants parents and students to be assured that all leads are being investigated thoroughly and fairly and will have consequences that align directly with the actions in which guilt is discovered.

In an interview she re-emphasized, “We are always here to forgive, as well as instruct and support our students on both sides of this issue, as middle school is a critical stage to teach some of life’s most difficult lessons.”

 

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