Lodi Unified School District officials say that making disparaging remarks on Twitter and Facebook about students, teachers and other schools is a problem that needs to be addressed.

However, a sampling of Lodi High students say it's an issue that students can address on their own without adult interference.

Administrators and trustees in the Lodi Unified School District don't agree, saying that some students cross the line when it comes to posting comments about others.

The issue came front and center on March 5, when the Lodi Unified board adopted a policy forbidding students in sports and campus clubs from posting crude or disparaging remarks via electronic media.

"They don't have the right to be inflammatory," said Tim Stutz, Lodi High's boys and girls soccer coach.

Trustee George Neely said that when the Lodi Unified board considered the policy on March 5, he asked why it was limited to students in extracurricular activities.

"It's because we can," Neely said.

Extracurricular activities are privileges, not rights, district officials said. With athletes and club members, they have a vehicle to take away an activity that students enjoy. They don't have that leverage for students who simply attend their classes and go home, officials said.

The bullying issue for all students, whether it be physical, verbal or electronic, is already covered in board policy, Womack said.

Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, student athletes and club members will have to sign a contract promising that they won't post remarks that can emotionally harm others online. This includes social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

Students in extracurricular activities will face a one-game benching or suspension for the first offense and removal from the team or activity on the second offense.

"It's an extension of the overall issue of bullying," school board President Ralph Womack said. "They post things before they think about it."

Stutz said that students don't realize that something they post today could harm them years from now. Potential employers look at Facebook posts, and insurance companies do the same when selling policies, he said.

Stutz cited an example of someone posting a picture of himself drinking a beer while driving. Insurance companies who see that picture may severely increase their rates to that person, he said.

Lodi sophomore Talia Piombo, who plays on the girls varsity soccer team, said that students always tease each other on social media. Usually, they know it's a joke, but adults reading the same thing may think it's serious, she said.

"It's our thing," Piombo said. "If it's a problem, we can take care of it. The school doesn't need to be involved."

Stutz said, "The board — they want to get a hold of it before it's out of control."

"The issue came up with some of the youths in special activities, not necessarily in athletics," Womack said. "The policy puts them on a notice that (extracurricular activities are) a privilege."

Womack compared cyber-bullying to road rage, where a seemingly mild-mannered person can get behind the wheel and feel anonymous. The same goes for social media outlets, he said.

"Behind a keyboard, some people think, 'I can send it off and not be responsible for it,'" Womack said.

District officials take bullying of all kinds very seriously and will issue disciplinary action, whether or not the student participates in sports or other school organizations.

But students participating in sports and other activities represent their teammates, coaches and school, Stutz said.

Often, parents don't realize that their children sometimes bully electronically, Womack said.

"The policy helps inform parents that this is an issue," Womack said.

It allows parents to discuss cyber-bullying with their children, he said.

Stutz said that teens are influenced by their heroes, such as professional athletes who dance in the end zone after a touchdown or text while on the sideline at a football game. Today's professional athletes sometimes post inappropriate remarks on Twitter and kids want to imitate their heroes, Stutz said.

"Our primary job (as coaches) — more than wins and losses — is to educate them (about) being good people, good citizens in our society," he said.

Neely said today's students use their laptops in class, something their parents and grandparents didn't have available to them. Therefore, it's easy for them to make inappropriate posts on social media.

"It's a modern version of passing notes," Neely said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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