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Originally published January 15, 2010 at 8:04 PM | Page modified January 15, 2010 at 8:04 PM

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Cyberbullying leads to suspension of 28 middle-schoolers at McClure

Twenty-eight students at McClure Middle School in Seattle have been suspended for allegedly bullying a classmate over the Internet.

Seattle Times education reporter

Twenty-eight students at McClure Middle School in Seattle have been suspended for allegedly bullying a classmate on the Internet.

School administrators learned Tuesday evening about a Facebook page targeting the victim and investigated Wednesday, said Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Patti Spencer.

The students were suspended for two to eight days, depending on their alleged level of involvement, Spencer said.

Spencer said there were no threats involved, but if there had been, the district would have contacted Seattle police. She said she didn't know how much, or what exactly, was written about the targeted student.

In addition to suspending the 28 students, school staff talked with them and their parents, and the principal plans to hold assemblies for students and meetings for parents to discuss appropriate and safe Internet use.

Lisa Fitch, a co-president of the school's PTSA, said her understanding was the incident involved a Facebook page that students were asked to sign up for if they didn't like the victim. She said she doesn't think the page was up for more than 24 hours.

Fitch and John Loacker, the other co-president, both supported Principal Sarah Pritchett's decision to suspend the students. "In middle school, they're very young and they're going to make mistakes, and I commend the school for dealing with it," Fitch said.

Still, Loacker said it pains him that McClure, one of nine middle schools in Seattle, is getting singled out for something negative when so much good happens there.

"We've created a very positive environment for our children at McClure," he said of the Queen Anne school.

The school has an anti-bullying program and a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, Spencer said. And even though the bullying didn't occur on school grounds, she said, the district has a responsibility to get involved when an incident creates significant disruption or concern at school.

Bullying, including cyberbullying, may be on the rise across the state. A recent study in a large school district by the national Cyberbullying Research Center said 9 percent of a representative sample of middle schoolers said they had been a victim of cyberbullying in the past month. Eight percent said they'd been a cyberbully.

Adie Simmons, director of Washington's Office of Education Ombudsman, said 32 percent of the cases her office handled in the 2008-09 school year involved bullying — up from about 28 percent the year before.

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School districts don't keep data on bullying incidents, she said, so there's little information about how big a problem it is and who it affects the most. The ombudsman's office supports legislation now under consideration that would require Washington's districts to collect data on incidents.

Cyberbullying is in a gray area that schools and parents find difficult to handle or control, Simmons said. "It definitely falls into uncharted territory for all of us."

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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