Belton school district investigates bullying, hurtful emails - KCTV5

Belton school district investigates bullying, hurtful emails

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Belton seventh-grader Kersten Laughlin was among the students receiving one of the bullying messages. The message appeared to have come from the school district email address of a friend, but that friend denied sending it.  (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star) Belton seventh-grader Kersten Laughlin was among the students receiving one of the bullying messages. The message appeared to have come from the school district email address of a friend, but that friend denied sending it. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star)
BELTON, MO (KCTV/AP) -

Officials in the Belton School District are investigating bullying emails that are coming through district-issued iPads.

Administrators suspect somebody has found a way to send the emails and make them appear as if they are being sent from student email accounts. District technology employees said they think some of the messages are coming from the same phone.

"The person using that phone can access somebody's email account if they have an email address and password," said Superintendent Andrew Underwood.

The perpetrator is not using the district's wireless system.

"We know it's from a cellular device because they're not on our wifi network," Underwood said. "So therefore we can't track an IP address based on that. But we are trying to work with the telephone company to identify a possible number."

Underwood added that a student was recently suspended for attempting to disable the school district's online system.

"We caught him as he was trying to do it," Underwood said.

Belton seventh-grader Kersten Laughlin was among the students receiving one of the bullying messages. The message appeared to have come from the school district email address of a friend, but that friend denied sending it.

"I called my mom, and I was crying so hard, I couldn't breathe," said Kersten, who attends Belton Middle School/Freshman Center.

At least one email read, "Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the fattest one of all," while making fun of her weight. One read, "Hear you went through the floor." Another mocked her dancing.

Kersten told KCTV5 News that the email messages got even worse.

"They just told me that I was worthless, to go die." the 13-year-old recalled. "They wrote that I was ugly and fat."

Her mother, Amy, is not happy.

"Here she is with a school-issued iPad, on their email that they provide for them," she told KCTV5's Jonathan Carter.

She felt that she was failing her daughter by sending her to a school where she got the nasty emails.

"She'll get 20 to 30 emails a day on this iPad that are mean," her mom says, "telling her she's fat and ugly and worthless."

Underwood said poor student password security could be contributing to the issue. Belton students in grades seven through 12 began receiving school district iPads more than two years ago. Students use them to receive assignments from teachers through their school district email addresses.

When students received their iPads last fall, they also received generic passwords for them.

"But some students are still using those generic passwords," Underwood said. "Our middle school principal has directed that all students be sure to have their passwords changed."

Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, said poor password security among students has led to the same problems elsewhere.

"Every time I have spoken to a youth audience, one of the questions I have asked is, 'How many of you know somebody's password,' and a majority of hands will go up," said Hinduja. "I then tell them that whether they do this out of convenience or as an act of bonding between friends, it is a bad idea."

Getting rid of the tablets isn't an easy solution. Students use the district-issued tablets to undertake and turn in their homework.

The district hopes to catch the student. If caught, those involved face suspension and paying the district for the cost of resetting the accounts.

Kersten said she just hopes the person is caught soon and the bullying doesn't do more than hurt feelings.

"Some people aren't as strong as me and my friends," she said. "If they had said that to someone else, it could really hurt them, and they could do something to hurt themselves."

Copyright 2015 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and Associated Press. All rights reserved

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