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Students stand up, rally against cyberbullying

Nov 3, 2021

Students at a Vermont (USA) high school are winning praise for their efforts to fight back against online bullying.

After a burst of negative posts on an anonymous school news app, students at Rutland High School organized a counterattack.

They petitioned the creators of the After School app to take their school's message board down. Then they launched a "Positive Post-it" campaign. Small notes offering praise and encouragement to fellow students were stuck to bulletin boards and windows around the school.

They also petitioned the tech giant Apple to remove After School from its App Store. An Apple spokesman said the company had agreed. The app was removed.

The app's intended use is to help students to form groups tied to a specific school and post anonymous messages about local goings-on.

Instead, comments on Rutland High School's app were "negative, obscene," said Principal Bill Olsen.

Senior Eric Gokee was one of five students who spoke during morning announcements. He introduced himself by saying, "Some of you may know me as the biggest Jew at Rutland High School." He added in an interview a few days later he was voted as such in a survey on the app.

"I never downloaded the app. But I knew what was going on just from my friends. Everyone was talking about it," Gokee said.

Sophomore Molly Engels is president of a student group, Cyber You. It is devoted to responsible Internet use, "It was a big wakeup call to see so many people affected by it in a negative way," she said.

The Rutland students' anti-bullying efforts drew praise from Gov. Peter Shumlin.

After School co-founder Cory Levy defended the app. He called it a "blank sheet of paper" that leaves students to decide what to write on it.

"We've only just gotten to know these students," Levy wrote in an email. "Their parents have had years to shape their morals and build good decision making skills."

John Halligan has been an anti-bullying activist since his son, Ryan, committed suicide in 2003. That was following online bullying by fellow middle school students. He said he had spoken to Rutland students two years ago.

"I'm really proud of these kids," he said. He added that they had gotten the message to "stand up for one another and push back against the bullying behavior."

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