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CUSD says it handled 'burn book' issue quickly
The internet's dark side - a web page termed a "burn book" where horrible things are posted about female students - has one Ceres parent calling for more action by Ceres Unified School District officials.

Josie Lorenzo-Castiglione charged that CUSD and school officials didn't do enough when she made them aware that her daughter and 21 other female students were the targets of a "burn book," a section of Facebook which had graphic comments, mostly of a sexual nature, posted next to the girls' photos and names.

"They just kept it quiet," said Lorenzo-Castiglione. "The girls' parents were not notified. It's a bunch of bull. The parents are not aware and need to be notified.

"As a parent of teens we have rights and they are getting brushed under the table."

However, Ceres Unified School District officials say they did a lot of work behind the scenes to punish the perpetrators and got Facebook to shut down the page.

"It's a very big deal to us and I'm saddened to think this parent didn't feel we handled it correctly," said Jay Simmonds, an assistant superintendent with CUSD.

Most of the parents - not all - were contacted, said Principal Amy Peterman.

On May 5, Lorenzo-Castiglione was made aware that a burn book called "Central Valley Bitches" was created on Facebook. She was shocked to read comments posted next to students' faces and names. Many comments slung ethnic and sexual slurs at the girl. One comment termed one student a "dirty ghetto hooker" and called another "hella hideous."

A number of friends of one of the targets rallied around her to post comments of support. One friend suggested that "whoever has time to even bother with this has no life and is insecure about themselves so they bash on everyone else - don't even worry about this."

Lorenzo-Castiglione said she promptly contacted Central Valley High School officials and was told they would take immediate action. The next day officials had contacted Facebook to have the burn book removed. They also said they had instructed teachers to keep their ears open for possible tips.

"This went on for several days. I was asked to keep it quiet so it did not bring any more attention to the site until they can see if they can get it removed. I did as they wished. I did not even get a return call with updates from any of the staff."

The mother was upset when CVHS officials told her that they decided against notifying the parents of the girls involved.

"I expressed my concern of being a mother of three teen daughters that this can be very destroying to a young person and that I totally disagreed with their decision. These parents should and need to know what is going on with their teens and the school did nothing."

"I know our admin team was very aggressive in bringing this down," said Simmonds. "We did quite a bit. There was a formal investigation done. The responsible individual was held accountable. I believe they handled it appropriately."

The website was referred to the School Resource Officer who deemed that, while tasteless and derogatory, the burn book contained no threats to the students.

"If there had been a threat, then we'd contact the parents," said Simmonds. He said students often call other students' bad names on a daily basis and "we do our best to try to stop that. We discipline them. But we don't call every parent - unless it's a severe case - because we'd on the phone all day long."

He then added, "but we'll look at it again in the future."

Simmonds said all the victims were talked to to make "sure they were not emotionally distressed by it."

Simmonds said the district disciplined the students but stopped short of expulsion. He also added that the district has been very proactive in educating parents about cyberbullying.

CVHS's Nicole Chapman said the perpetrators - between two and five in number - were ordered to undergo one-day mentoring. The goal is to get students thinking about their motives and how they can constructively deal with esteem issues they are facing.

"We take this very seriously," said Principal Peterman. She said she recommends anyone to read Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bees and Wannabes."

Lorenzo-Castiglione said she heard that another burn book was formed after facebook removed the original one. But she had no solid proof.

Simon Axten, a spokesperson for Facebook, said his company takes matters like this very seriously.

"The safety of the people who use Facebook is extremely important to us," Axten wrote. "We have strict policies that prohibit the posting of content that bullies or harasses."

"While only a small percentage of people will ever experience bullying on Facebook, we're concerned about any abusive behavior and have made these efforts to promote an environment where everybody on Facebook can connect and share comfortably," Axten wrote.

Simmonds said Facebook "is a strange world in that if a student posts something from home, legally we have no jurisdiction, that's fredom of speech. We can get involved if it's proven there's a nexus in connection and in this case with the school's name there's some nexus but not as strong as you think it is. It's a nebulous area of law."