Coon Rapids police are investigating an ongoing conflict between female middle-school students that moved to social media and included an anonymous Facebook suggestion that some of them kill themselves.
The incident involving Northdale Middle School students apparently started at a football game earlier this fall, said Police Capt. John Hattstrom. An altercation between two groups of girls continued, mutually, on social media, eventually including a fake Facebook page. The comment that prompted the targeted students to seek help, posted on that fake page, said something to the effect of, "You should just commit suicide," Hattstrom said.
Students took their concerns to a staff member, which triggered a process that included counseling the students and working with police to find the instigator of the comment and the fake page. Police are working with Facebook to identify the Internet service provider, which can lead them to the computer where the message originated.
It's not known whether any laws have been broken, but finding out is an objective, said Hattstrom.
The Facebook page has been disabled. It's unclear whether it was taken down by the company or the person who started it.
Anoka-Hennepin spokeswoman Ellen Perrault noted that middle-school students across the district are currently subject to a "digital citizenship" program that engages both students and parents on safer social networking.
In the past year, the district has made changes designed to help respond more effectively to reports of bullying. Some of the moves were part of a March settlement that ended a lawsuit filed against the district by students who said their complaints of severe bullying and harassment weren't adequately addressed. Other measures had been put in place before that.
Cyber-bullying already was prohibited in district policy, but some of the changes included staff dedicated to an anti-bullying response, said Jinger Gustafson, associate superintendent for middle schools. Parallel investigations by the district and the police will result in district discipline only if it turns out that school resources or school time were used in the bullying incident.
"The more resources you have, that's what makes you nimble," Gustafson said. "It's not necessarily the policies, but the resources you have in place because you're able to complete the investigation in a much quicker fashion. ... This was an example of how our response system is working. We were able to swiftly take care of this and be able to let parents know this is what's going on."
Coon Rapids Police Chief Brad Wise said he believes the nature of bullying has changed.
"We live in an interesting era, when people are able to mindlessly write their cruel thoughts, and it has an impact on people," he said. "Before electronic media, people had to say things face to face if they wanted to convey a message of intimidation, and now they can just do it casually."
He stressed that ultimately it's up to parents to decide whether children are mature enough to use digital media.
"Whatever cruel things students say about one another, parents should be stepping in and cutting it off and insisting on a code of conduct for their kids and monitoring what they do," he said.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409