WESTFIELD, NJ — School officials in Westfield are investigating incidences of cyber-bullying in which Instagram users have been inviting students to anonymously submit gossip about their classmates.

Westfield High School Principal Mary Asfendis, who called the behavior “disturbing,” said in a message to parents earlier this week that someone created numerous accounts on Instagram that ask students to anonymously submit the gossip items, which the account holder then posts to the social media site.

“Many of these sites have used our Blue Devil ‘W’ as the profile image,” Asfendis said. “Not only is the behavior troubling and hurtful, but there are a number of students who have followed these accounts thus promoting this inappropriate behavior.”

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She encouraged parents to speak with their children about their social media presence.

“Discourage their involvement in any of these types of sites even as a follower,” Asfendis said. “We also recommend reporting any of these sites to Instagram so that they are removed.”

Click here to report harassment or bullying on Instagram.

The district, Asfendis said, is investigating.

“We take all instances of cyberbullying very seriously and are actively investigating these incidents,” she said. “This type of behavior is not tolerated and will be addressed with the parties responsible.”

Dianne Grossman, the founder of Mallory’s Army, which seeks solutions to end bullying following the 2017 death by suicide of her 12-year-old daughter Mallory Grossman after she was bullied, said that with increased use of technology during COVID-19, schools and parents must be especially vigilant.

“This is going to be a very intensive school year for parents, teachers, administrations and communities,” Grossman said, then added: “The more time that children spend online the more bad habits are created.”

Under the law, she said, the responsibility rests with the school district to counter bullying.

“The main focus here is for the school systems to understand that the state of New Jersey put the burden of countering bullying and cyber-bullying on the school systems,” Grossman said. “We’re always asking the parents to get involved, but the law requires the school system to do so.”

She noted the recent lawsuit filed by the parents of Carter Uziel, who claimed that their son, a student at Westfield High School, died by suicide after years of being bullied at Westfield Public Schools. It is something the parents claim in their lawsuit that the schools failed to address.

To truly counter online bullying, the community as a whole must be involved, Grossman said.

“This isn’t one person’s responsibly,” she said. “Everyone has to be on board to understand that children with underdeveloped brains don’t have the ability to navigate content.”

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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