I've read many posts on internet safety in the year I've really been engaged in the blogosphere. But I haven't really been invested in what I was reading. I think I figured it wasn't a big issue for my students - fifth graders who aren't upper middle class. They don't have computers in their bedrooms, many of them don't have internet access at home.
So, an incident last week took me completely by surprise. One girl in my class went to the counselor with a concern. The counselor kept returning to my room throughout the morning and borrowing or returning students. I didn't really think too much about it, assuming it was a friendship issue (a common problem). At lunch I walked past my principal's office and noticed the counselor and four of my students in there. I got them to lunch and went back to figure out what on earth was going on.
It turns out that quite a few of my students have been using a social networking site. I had never heard of it. It seems to have a focus on anime and manga. One student began receiving threatening emails two days before this. When she didn't respond the bully began emailing her friends to get to her. They were all quite scared.
As a school, we contacted parents, reassured students, and turned this over to the proper authorities. I'm keeping an eye on these students to see if they seem to be upset or distracted or if they show any other signs of distress. Hopefully they will all stop using this site and not be bothered by this bully anymore.
It was eye opening to me and I think I need to do more on internet safety with my students. I thought they were too young, but I was wrong. Only one of them had anything very personal on this site, fortunately, but it's clearly a lesson we need to discuss.
The positive side to all of this was a reaffirmation of the wonders of my school. I spent part of my lunch getting the scoop on the issue from the principal and counselor, but that was all that was required of me. The administration took care of everything. My job was to teach my class and they made sure I could do that. I'm not sure that level of support is a common thing.
(I have to admit that I wasn't willing to be that uninvolved. I'm lucky to have an intern/student teacher working in my room right now so I was able to be out of the classroom to help call parents and talk with the authorities. But, it was nice to have options.)