Two boys brawl as a crowd looks on in a video post entitled "Samoans fighting in front of Waipahu High." The video appeared on the popular site YouTube.com.
Isle kids post their fights on the Web
Camera phones and online social networks create an unhealthy mix, officials say
In a search of the word "Farrington" on the popular video-posting site YouTube.com, the first page of results includes a clip of two girls, purportedly Farrington High students, in a wild fight as a crowd of students cheers.
Search "Waipahu" and the results are similar: two boys identified as Waipahu High students brawling in grainy slow-motion.
Armed with camera-equipped cell phones, Hawaii students are increasingly posting such graphic content, highlighting an emerging new safety problem for school officials.
The potential for harm became clear in March when video posts of two fights and associated taunting between students of Campbell High and Farrington blew the feud up into a major confrontation leading to several arrests.
"We're noticing more and more that kids are using this technology to taunt or confront others from a distance, and it's been explosive," said Deborah Spencer of Adult Friends for Youth, which counsels high-risk youths and was called in to help quell the clash.
The most popular site is MySpace.com, which allows users to easily set up free e-mail accounts, Web pages and blogs, where they can post pictures, videos and personal statements.
Kids seeking an outlet for self-expression have signed up in droves since it went online two years ago -- it lists more than 1,000 users with ties to Roosevelt High School alone. Most use it to stay in touch with ever-expanding groups of friends.
But critics say such sites are a superhighway for spreading harmful content and bad blood much faster and wider than word-of-mouth, and that Department of Education security policies haven't kept up.
Board of Education members hope to change that. Citing "recent incidents," the board has set up an ad hoc committee dedicated to school safety issues.
"We need to nip this in the bud. It's kind of like graffiti. If you let one go up on a wall, another will go up and it expands exponentially," said Darwin Ching, the committee's chairman.
Ching wants the committee, which first meets May 30, to spark a broad discussion involving police, legal experts, school officials and community members on all Department of Education security policies, possibly leading to a revision of its Chapter 19 student misconduct and discipline policies. They were last revised in 2002 and don't cover online forms of misbehavior.
Documented mainland cases show such content can take many forms.
The most notorious example was a plot by five My-Space-using students at a Kansas school to kill students and teachers they disliked. Numerous cases have involved young female users being targeted by sexual predators.
But even legal content can be hugely harmful, such as malicious blog entries that personally attack or spread rumors about other students or teachers. Even a simple photo of another person in an unguarded moment can cause embarrassment and anger.
"It's a good venue for keeping in touch with people and getting to know others but can cause a lot of social damage," said Darren Ibara, a Roosevelt High junior and the board's student member. "Parents really don't know that this stuff is going on."
School principals' hands are tied.
"This is an area that's really new for us," said Kalaheo High Principal James Schlosser, who said schools don't have the time to monitor Web sites, whose users often assume an online "handle" rather than using real names.
Schlosser says most off-campus situations eventually end up on school grounds anyway, where they can be dealt with.
"We can't be chasing ghosts and shadows," he said.
Ching, however, plans to show committee members a proposed policy drawn up by Utah education officials as a possible template for Hawaii. It allows schools to react to off-campus situations earlier, especially if they cause "substantial disruption" to school operations or infringe on student or staff rights.
He said this would likely rely on other students reporting hurtful postings to schools before things get out of hand, which is common and helped expose the Kansas plot.
However, some mainland courts have ruled against schools, citing free speech protections.
But Ching, an attorney, notes that the "substantial disruption" argument was successful in some other cases.
Ultimately, the issue boils down to one of education and parent involvement, said Cathy Lee Chong, spokes-woman for Iolani School, which advises students on proper Internet use.
The private school has had its share of cyber-situations, but its policy of acting quickly to show students -- and parents -- the harm caused has shown good results, she said.
"That's clearly where the school-parent partnership is important. The goal is to help students make good choices," she said.
That message may not be getting through everywhere.
Deeanne Sameshima, a junior at Maui's Baldwin High School who uses MySpace, said most parents "don't really care" what kids do online.
Though the Department of Education makes materials on Internet safety available to schools for use in instruction, she's never heard of it at Baldwin. She adds that schools actually should target younger students at the intermediate school level.
"The Internet is an unsafe kind of place to be and they're the ones that are young enough to get influenced by this stuff," she said.
Following a spate of violent incidents at local schools last year, the board in January identified student safety as a top priority this year.
Ching said his committee won't be limited to online forms of provocation but will examine the whole security picture, possibly including the department's system for reporting incidents and enforcing Chapter 19.
In February, members of a school safety task force said bullying and violence in local schools festers due to inaction by school officials and a dysfunctional system for dealing with it.
"The stats we get from the DOE look almost like there is no violence in schools, but the student safety officer (at a Leeward Oahu school) told me it's a war zone out there. We need to reconcile that," Ching said.