Internet Safety Front and Center at Recent Events After Recent Online Incidents at New Rochelle Schools

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Two previously scheduled Internet Safety meetings in New Rochelle on March 5th were held in the immediate wake of two major cyber-incidents involving New Rochelle High School. The New Rochelle High School PTA hosted one event at the Linda Kelly Theater, the Sisterhood of Temple Israel New Rochelle hosted another at Temple Israel of New Rochelle.

In one recent incident a person gained access to the high school web site and made changes claiming that school had been cancelled when it had not, in the other a person obtained nude images of children, students at the high school and the two middle schools and displayed them on an invite-only Instagram page. Girls depicted in the photos were said to be distraught with some seeking counseling. New Rochelle Police and the Westchester County District Attorney's office are conducting an investigation into the Instagram account.

New Rochelle High School Principal Reginald Richardson, House Principal Michael Hilderbrand and Director of Technology Dr. Christine Coleman addressed the gathering of the New Rochelle High School PTA.

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Richardson spoke about the recent hacking of the New Rochelle High School web site in which someone updated the school calendar and announcements page to "close" the school on a Friday.

"In 2014, pranks are different," said Richardson who gave assurances that the holes in the web site were closed and that an investigation was ongoing.

Richardson described the need for a shift in how parents think about their children's privacy.

"We want to give them more space,"' said Richardson. "But their devices are a public space where anyone in the world has access to your child though their device."

Richardson noted the lasting impact of social media.

"What happens in cyberspace lasts forever," he said.

InternetSafety1In response to the recent "New Ro Sluts" Instagram account, Richardson said the school would hold an assembly, workshops, and make changes to curriculum as well as engage students in an ongoing discussion on student responsibility in cyberspace and associated pitfalls. An upcoming half day will include spending time on school/parent roles and shifting expectations, he added.

Michael Hilderbrand, the House Principal for House 4, spoke on the subject of the Dignity for All Students Act, commonly referred to as "DASA".

No student shall be subjected to harassment or bullying by employees or students on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person's actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function...

"Students don't understand their interactions are violating state law," he said. "Many students and parents wonder 'What does school have to do with it?'"

Hilderbrand explained that the law addresses any form of harassment, bullying or discrimination that creates a hostile environment at school regardless of the source:

...require the school, when an investigation reveals any such verified harassment, bullying or discrimination, to take prompt actions reasonably calculated to end the harassment, bullying or discrimination, eliminate any hostile environment, create a more positive school culture and climate, prevent recurrence of the behavior, and ensure the safety of the student or students against whom such harassment, bullying or discrimination was directed...

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Hildebrand introduced Veronica Alvarez and Joe Chavez of the "No Place for Hate Club".

Alvarez explained how the group had organized the "No Place For Hate Day" an event targeting 9th graders who learned about DASA, watched a film about bullying and then read, learned and signed the Resolution of Respect.

Hildebrand said the school was seeing a decrease in bullying.

Dr. Christine Coleman spoke about student's social media foot print.

Coleman said students needed to be aware that colleges do an evaluation of what they are posting online as part of the college application process. She stressed that the a student's cyber footprint will impact college applications, jobs, and more.

Internet Safety 1256Concurrent with the New Rochelle High School PTA event, the Sisterhood of Temple Israel New Rochelle hosted a panel discussion entitled How Much Do You Know...About Internet Safety?

The panel was moderated by Beth Feldman, purveyor of the rolemommy.com web site and included Elana Pass, Teen Ambassador for Stomp Out The Bullying, Nancy Friedman, Co-Founder of KidzVuz, Ross Ellis of Stomp Out The Bullying and Dr. Jeff Gardere, a Psychologist and FOX 5 New York Contributor.

Pass said one way to deal with bullying is for kids to band together, to block or unfollow persons acting badly and thus create some consequences for cyberbullying.

Friedman echoed sentiments expressed by Richardson earlier that night, that kids see the web as a private space when the reality is that there is no privacy on the Internet, that all of cyberspace is a public space.

Ellis emphasized the permanent nature of what goes on line. "What goes on the Internet stays there." she said.

Dr. Gardere called recent events such as the New Ro Sluts Instagram group as a "corrective emotional experience".

"The predators are out there, ready to take advantage," said Gardere. "Everyone is a paparazzi and everyone is the National Enquirer."

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