Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 | 1:55 a.m.
It’s not the class reunion Katelynn Dyer was hoping for.
The 2009 graduate of Green Valley High School in Henderson recently found herself among the 203 students and alumni featured on the social networking website Burnbook.com
The website allows users to gossip about other students anonymously.
“At first, I thought (the site) was kind of funny, but people were being cruel,” Dyer said. “Someone called me a (expletive) and told me to go die.
“It hurt. I thought about it a lot,” the 20-year-old continued. “I was really upset. It sucks that you don’t know who said it.”
The issue of cyberbullying on Burnbook.com has officials at Dyer’s alma mater concerned. Last Thursday, Principal Jeff Horn spoke to senior government classes and urged students who have bullied other students on the website to come forward. He threatened those who didn’t with possible expulsion.
“This came on us quickly,” said Horn, who learned of the site last Wednesday. “The comments alarmed us and in light of what happened (elsewhere) with students hurting themselves because of derogatory comments, I took the time all day Thursday to ask students to do what’s right.”
Horn gave students until 2:30 p.m. Thursday to admit to having used the site to bully other students. About 30 students came forward with information about the website; six students were suspended, he said.
Horn said he would like to see the Henderson and the Clark County School District police departments go through the unique Internet Protocol addresses of Burnbook.com users to track down the bullies.
However, Henderson and School District police say that unless there is a specific threat of bodily harm, they can’t open a criminal investigation.
“There have been no actual threats,” said School District Police Lt. Ken Young. “These are unfavorable comments … It’s stuff that’s been going on in schools for years.”
A new state law, which went into effect July 1, makes cyberbullying a criminal offense. Students who threaten “to cause bodily harm or death to pupil or school employee by means of oral, written or electronic communication” could now face either a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor charge, depending on the circumstances.
Even if a bully isn’t charged with a crime, he or she can still face disciplinary action at school, including possible suspension or expulsion.
Despite seeking help from the police, school officials contend it might be difficult to pin down cyberbullies on Burnbook.com because of the anonymous nature of the site.
“This is a nationwide anonymous website. It’s extremely difficult to find out who is posting the comments,” said Edward Goldman, associate superintendent at the education services division of the Clark County School District. “And if we find out they were seniors last year who graduated, we can’t administratively discipline them.”
Goldman said IP addresses could only reveal so much: The computer that was used to post derogatory comments on Burnbook.com but not necessarily the user.
“It could be a friend using someone else’s computer,” Goldman said. “It’s just unfortunate in this day and age to have children bullying others anonymously.”
While some students are using Burnbook.com to post nice comments about other students, some are using it to taunt others anonymously.
A request for comment about cyberbullying on the site was sent to an e-mail address on the Burnbook.com contact page but received no response. Further attempts to determine and locate the owner of the site were unsuccessful.
Burnbook.com comments aren’t just about Green Valley High School students. At nearby Foothill High School, 87 students have been mentioned on Burnbook.com; at Basic High School, 32; at Coronado High School, 28. Although the majority of posts are focused within Henderson high school networks, Burnbook.com has a presence at 53 valley schools. Tuesday afternoon, 11 Silverado High School students had been written about; at other schools, including Arbor View, Del Sol and private school Bishop Gorman, posts numbered in the single digits. Some schools, although listed on the site, had no postings at all.
Jenica Rivera, 18, is a senior at Foothill High School who found out last week that she was gossiped about on Burnbook.com. A user made comments about her body, which Rivera said hurt her feelings.
“This site is purposely to bash people anonymously,” Rivera said. “I feel like, we’re in high school. You need to grow up.”
The issue of cyberbullying gained national attention earlier this year with the suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a bridge after his roommate streamed a live feed of Clementi and another man having a romantic encounter.
Dyer said she was concerned Burnbook.com could be another contributor in the recent spate of suicides linked to cyberbullying across the country and said people need to be more mature when using social networks.
“I think it’s really sad,” Dyer said. “People could be really depressed already, and this could be the last straw.”
Teenagers who may have a history of anxiety or depression are at an increased risk for suicide if they are the victims of cyberbullying, said UNLV psychology professor Christopher Kearney.
“It can be pretty devastating. Teens read this stuff and often begin to believe it,” said Kearney, who studies clinical child psychology. “It’s best they talk to friends, parents and teachers who can act as a sounding board.
“It’s important not to keep it a secret.”