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Baldwinsville: Altercations on rise at schools

Baldwinsville School Resource Officers Martin Knaul and Christine Weeks report that there has been a significant rise in student physical and verbal altercations in Baldwinsville's schools this year. They think this increase is probably due to students' increased use of social media, such as Facebook and YouTube, as well as student use of cell phones to take photos, videos and send text messages to bully their peers.

Officer Weeks said all of these tools move the "playground," where bullies traditionally do their dirty work in front of a limited audience for a limited amount of time, to a broader audience for an unlimited amount of time. Social media attacks often spill over from the home to school in the form of verbal or physical altercations.

Officer Knaul said that students and parents may not realize that threatening violence or actual physical contact, such as pushing, slapping and hitting could be considered harassment or assault. Harassment and assault are criminal offenses punishable by law as well as subject to discipline by the school district, as outlined in the district's Code of Conduct. Officers Knaul and Weeks said there are different classifications of harassment and assault, each carrying its own penalty.

Students and parents should be aware that there is another charge called aggravated harassment that involves communicating with a person, either electronically, by writing or by telephone, including computer and texing, to annoy or alarm that person. Bullying and making threats in this manor could result in a misdemeanor charge under the penal law. Officer Weeks said that an individual convicted of this charge could serve jail time anywhere from 15 days to up to one year.

Another form of aggravated harassment is harassment that includes annoying, threatening or alarming someone because of their race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation. It also includes placing a swastika on public or private property, setting a cross on fire in public view and displaying a noose on any public or private property. Officers Knaul and Weeks have seen an increase in bullying and threats regarding these issues as well. This offense is a felony and could have a punishment of at least one year in jail if convicted.

Officer Weeks said that children as young as 8 years old can be arrested and charged with aggravated harassment, should a victim or a victim's parents choose to press charges. Officers Knaul and Weeks suggest parents monitor their children's computer and cell phone use and speak with them about the legal ramifications and school discipline should bullying result in harassment or assault at school.

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