Union stages first cyberbullying forum certification session

UNION, NJ — The township was to hold the first educational session of its new Bully-Free Zone Cyberbullying Program on March 1, with a documentary on the topic and presentations from local and state officials.

Mayor Suzette Cavadas unveiled the program during her reorganization address in January. The township is to bestow certifications to independently run social media forums after administrators complete the new program.

“The fact is that suicide rates among middle school students is on the rise because of bullying, social and academic pressures, and fear and uncertainty about the dangerous world we live in,” Cavadas said in a Feb. 20 statement. “It’s our job as parents to not only take a stand against bullying in all forms, but to also set an example with our own behaviors.”

In return for obtaining the certification, forum administrators will have a direct line of communication with township officials to answer questions and communicate with residents about their concerns.

The education session on understanding cyberbullying was set to include a screening of “Cyberbullies, a Killer Network,” and presentations by Dawn Correia, a special state investigator and an acting Union County detective. Jill Hall, a student assistance counselor in the local school district, was also slated to be on hand.

The educational session is the first part of the township’s program. After attending the session, a forum’s administrator will then have to go through the certification process. Township spokesperson Natalie Pineiro previously said that process would include adhering to a set of guidelines that prohibit harassment, taunting, exclusion or participating in insulting or hostile exchanges.

When first announced, the program was still in its development stages. Since then, Pineiro has created a Facebook account in order to distribute information to groups that have been certified.

“As part of the program, the township wants to connect with the residents and it was very difficult to do so from our standard township page,” Pineiro said in a Feb. 20 phone interview. “A lot of people don’t really engage in that page in the way that they do” in other forums.

She compared the creation of the new account to a “customer service mechanism.” For example, if a person posts a question about garbage collection times, the public information officer’s account could quickly answer it. To streamline this, Pineiro encouraged those in certified groups to tag her professional account, at facebook.com/natalie.pineiro.7587, in posts with township-related questions.

The township’s program sparked outcry from members of at least one Facebook group, The Union, NJ Residents Forum, which has more 13,000 members. One of this group’s administrators is Jason Krychiw, who recently made an unsuccessful bid as an independent for the Union Township Committee.

Krychiw was at first skeptical of the program, although open to the idea behind it. He questioned if the township would consider criticism of a township policy to be of a violation of the bullying policy. Krychiw told LocalSource on Feb. 21 that he would attend the educational session, but was still considering the certification portion.

“It’s kind of ‘wait and see,” he said, referring to obtaining the certification. “I just kind of want to see the specifics just because the bullet points have changed. Right now they’re just kind of generic.”

The free March 1 kick-off event was designed to be open to all residents and their families and is the first of quarterly panels planned to be held year-round for those interested in obtaining the township certification.