Students at Boston public schools have reported several cyberbullying complaints, including Facebook pages with derogatory captions and crude remarks directed at females who attend Charlestown High.
Matthew Wilder, a school district spokesman, said that officials learned of the reports "in the last few days" following calls to a new city hot line.
Wilder said officials are trying to find out who launched the Facebook pages, which show photographs of girls along with the crude remarks. Some girls have apparently launched pages targeting boys in retaliation, he said. All but two of the pages had been taken down as of midday.
City officials are moving with a sense of urgency to fight such websites in the wake of the suicide of Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old South Hadley freshman whose death following months of torment from classmates sparked criminal charges and national outcry about how South Hadley school administrators handled the situation.
The thrust of the bullying occurred at school, but Prince, who hanged herself from a stairwell in her family’s apartment, was also harassed on social-networking sites like Facebook and Craigslist.
In Boston, city and school officials, police, and students who had been victimized met for two hours Wednesday to try to find solutions to the problem, said Michelle Urbano, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Health, whose office took the calls to the tip line.
“It’s extremely dangerous when somebody is victimized like this,” said Urbano, whose office is part of the city’s Public Health Commission. “We certainly don’t want it to get anywhere near the point of South Hadley.”
It was not immediately clear how many complaints to the Boston hot line have been made so far.
Wilder said he could not estimate the total number of offending pages and that some of those pictured may not be teens in the school district. Officials are working to identify the students involved, and sanctions against perpetrators will be determined on an individual basis.
He noted that while students at multiple high schools were pictured online, Charlestown High students have been "very vocal" in their reports to the hot line and school administrators.
All high school principals have been informed of the Facebook pages, according to Wilder, and will address the issue with students in the next couple of days.
"We're taking this seriously," he said, adding that letters will soon be mailed to all middle and high school parents and guardians outlining steps to take if they believe their children are victims or perpetrators of cyberbullying.
Most of the offensive Facebook pages contained pictures of Charlestown High students, according to school officials, though photos of other city students were also posted. The women were called fat, ugly, or promiscious in anonymous captions.
People who visited the pages added their own insults or wrote "LOL" - Internet slang for "laughing out loud." Others fought back, calling the website childish and foolish.
One victim wrote that she keeps to herself, bothers no one, and could not understand why "people wanna come at me." "This is getting out of hand," wrote another victim.
State lawmakers approved legislation last month that would require school personnel to report cases of bullying to administrators, among other measures. Governor Deval Patrick has indicated that he will sign a final version of the bill.
In February, Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced the launch of a new cyberbullying hot line (617-534-5050) staffed by the Boston Public Health Commission. Dispatchers are available Monday through Friday, and callers can leave messages after hours, Wilder said.
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