14-year-old’s suicide puts spotlight on online bullying dangers

The recent suicide of a 14-year-old middle school student has once again put the spotlight on a new “epidemic”—online bullying.

Eden Wormer, who attended Cascade Middle School in Vancouver, Wash., reportedly hugged her father and told him “I love you, Daddy, goodnight,” before hanging herself Wednesday.

Her friends and sister Audriunna told reporters that Eden had endured years of bullying—both online and in the classroom—and her family believes it ultimately led her to commit suicide.

While school officials declined to speak about Eden’s case specifically, a district spokesperson said the school district does have policies in place to protect students from bullying.

“We use progressive discipline—meaning for a first time offense, the punishment is usually detention,” Scott Deutsch, risk and safety manager at Evergeen Public Schools, told FoxNews.com.  “If there are difficulties where the student [who is the bully] is not understanding [the consequences of his/her actions], the punishment moves up to in-school suspension, then out-of-school suspension, then long-term suspension, up until expulsion.”

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Deutsch said Evergreen district officials do not “go looking for” internet bullying on Facebook or other websites, but if a student or staff member alerts an official to online bullying, they will investigate the matter.

However, Deutsch clarified, “The school district has to show there’s a disruption to the education process in the school building, and then they can take action.”  This means the school has to prove any bullying that takes place online has made a student afraid to come to school or resulted in absences.

“They have to show [the bullying] is impacting the student’s ability to learn,” Deutsch said.  If the school can prove this, the student is then referred to an appropriate staff member or to law enforcement, where “appropriate action will be taken,” he added.

Evergreen public schools also participate in a program called SafeSchools Alert, which allows students, parents and staff to confidentially submit tips online or by phone regarding bullying or other safety concerns.

Starting in 2009, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added a question regarding bullying to its Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  The survey, conducted every two years, is used to monitor “priority high risk behavior among youth and young adults.”

"The first step in preventing school violence is to understand the extent and nature of the problem,"  Marci Hertz, a spokesperson for the CDC, wrote in an e-mail to FoxNews.com.  "CDC along with the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Justice gather and analyze data from a variety of sources to gain a more complete understanding of school violence."

Nearly 20 percent of students who responded to the 2009 survey indicated they had been bullied on school property within the past year.  The CDC also added a question regarding online bullying to the 2011 YRBS, but results from that survey will not be available until this summer.

Additional statistics from the CDC website indicate that 13.8 percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide, and it is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds.

The CDC recommends that any parents who suspect their child is a victim of bullying talk to their child, set rules for internet use and visit the sites their child frequents.