Schools speak out in battle against bullying

Several Co Longford secondary schools have come out in support this week of the need to crack down on the apparent rise in so-called cyberbullying.

Several Co Longford secondary schools have come out in support this week of the need to crack down on the apparent rise in so-called cyberbullying.

The universal stance taken by almost half a dozen institutions over the past seven days comes on the back of the second suspected suicide linked to online bullying in just over a month.

Thirteen-year-old Erin Gallagher was found dead at her Co Donegal home last Saturday after informing friends she was contemplating killing herself after falling foul to an internet related bullying campaign.

Her death follows the tragedy still surrounding that of 15-year-old Co Leitrim teenager Ciara Pugsley at the end of last month.

Like Erin, it’s believed Ciara was subjected to a number of hate messages on the social networking ask.fm website.

Gardai have begun separate investigations and the possible connection to cyberbullying in relation to both incidents.

This week, meanwhile, schools from right across the county have voiced their support of an all inclusive anti-bullying offensive.

Of the five second level establishments contacted, all said they maintained a comprehensive and up to date policy with students.

A number, including Scoil Mhuire headteacher Paul Costello however, warned of the growing attractiveness as well as dangers surrounding social media.

“That’s the new thing,” said Mr Costello. “Our school computers can’t be used for that (social networking), but students would have access at home. Certainly parents, I would ask them to be vigilant and have the computer in the main living room.”

Mr Costello said the all-girls school, located in the heart of Longford town, continues to uphold a transparent and expansive protocol when dealing with suspected cases of bullying.

“Most of the time it’s a dirty look or nasty remark, that’s as far as it would go,” he said. “Any time it does happen, the girls are encouraged to speak to us with whatever teacher they feel comfortable with where it is dealt with promptly.

“What we always say to them (pupils) is to tell somebody. If your friend is in trouble and she is not telling, always come forward and speak to us about it.”

It is that onus on clear and open discussion which many of the four other schools surveyed by this newspaper likewise alluded to this week.

Principal at Ardscoil Phadraig, Garret Buckley said maintaining clear and open lines of communication with teachers was the most fundamental aspect in tackling suspected cases of bullying.

“Apart from having induction programmes and SPHE (Social Personal and Health Education) classes, telling is the most important thing,” he said, revealing the Granard based school can also call upon the services of a HSCL or Home School Community Liaison Officer when required.

Both Ballymahon VEC and Moyne Community School also confirmed they had anti-bullying guidelines in place, as did Granard town’s Cnoc Mhuire.

Its headteacher, Moira Mahon said surveys had been carried out with students in relation to bullying with a cyberbullying workshop having only taken place at the school two weeks ago.

“That was very informative,” said Ms Mahon, when referring to the online tutorial carried out in association with the website antibullyingcampaign.ie website.

“Parents were also involved and came in for it. It (bullying) is in every walk of life. But children who are involved in bullying behaviour don’t realise the enormous impact it is having on the other person.”