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Cyber attacks marred school election

Hateful posts appeared on website

FINN ROCK: Coarse political confrontations devolved from sparring on the national stage to grappling with free speech at a local high school in 2021. And like the big time, the Internet was a weapon of choice in the McKenzie Valley.

Devon Lawson, a ninth-grade student at the McKenzie River Community School, says his interest in politics was sparked two years ago when he realized he was unhappy with what was going on at the federal level. “I decided if something was going to happen, I was eventually going to change it,” he recalls.

Typically, student government elections at McKenzie Schools occur over two weeks in September. “I felt we would need more time than that,” Devon said of his decision to put together a campaign to run for an Associated Student Body seat during the summer. However, the early launch meant his campaign wasn’t operating under the protective umbrella of the school district.

That distinction came face-to-face with reality when someone published homophobic remarks on his campaign website. Devon said the school couldn’t do much about it when he reported it to the principal. However, the student placing the posts was later identified.

McKenzie River School District superintendent Lane Tompkins says that although the school can’t address student incidents, “The McKenzie School District takes bullying and cyberbullying very seriously. We strive to foster a supportive school environment for all students through policy, training, and proactive community-building strategies. We promptly investigate incidents that are brought to our attention.”

Tompkins admits cyberbullying can be very difficult to prevent and investigate through methods usually employed by schools, “Because many of the interactions occur on platforms outside of our campus network and outside of the school day. We regularly monitor the usage of our devices and network for inappropriate keywords and messages. When cyber issues arise that cause concern and disruption for our students, they are investigated to the fullest extent our resources will allow,” he said.

Devon won his bid for the Associated Student Body Business Manager post. He says his campaign had been focused on changes to the dress code as well as issues like student equality related to teacher favoritism and bullying. In his campaign speech, he promised, if elected, “No student will suffer from a sexist dress code under my leadership, no student will have to feel like they have no voice and no student will feel discriminated against by others. Under my guidance, you will all have a voice, you will all have a choice, and you will all be treated as equal human beings.”

So far, he feels like he was widely supported, although the district doesn’t release election vote counts. However, there are a handful of students who he says make strongly negative comments when they see him in the hallway or bathrooms. Philosophically, “I wouldn’t see myself as a successful student leader if I didn’t have people who didn’t like me,” he says.

While the Lane County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t involved in this incident, McKenzie District Deputy Russ Olson said there are instances where harassment or bullying reaches a threshold where law enforcement should play a role. “If there is any information, whether it’s criminal or just for info that they want to share with us, they are strongly encouraged to do so. There have been numerous incidences, not specifically with the school, that parents or businesses just wanted us to be aware of. This is also a great way of tracking repeated incidences or problems.”

Olson added that the Sheriff’s Office, “Never wants to discourage anybody from calling us because they think they’re wasting our time. It’s always good information, and there might be something else that we were made aware of that might link a couple of incidences together.”

Tompkins cautioned that parents and other people should be aware of what’s occurring online. “Although the Internet and social media have a wealth of information and the power to connect people across the world, it also has provided an avenue for people to treat people in ways that they never would in person,” he feels. “We encourage families to regularly monitor their children’s use of the Internet and social media.”

Devon says he wants to see the district do better at cracking down on bullying. “It is extremely important and a big issue at McKenzie. During my campaign, I called for student justice and student equality,” he notes. “I also campaigned saying I will not tolerate student discrimination and that it would be taken extremely seriously.”

Currently, the Student Council is working on an anti-bullying campaign. “We’ve made posters and plan on holding an assembly strictly on acknowledging bullying will not be tolerated at McKenzie,” according to Devon. He says students are also working on getting some activists to hold an assembly at the school and, “Let them talk about why bullying hurts people’s mental and physical health.”

Devon has branched out beyond the school’s student council, moving forward from his realization that he intends to remain politically involved. This year, he expanded his activities with internships as a campaign policy advisor at Patrick Starnes’ campaign for Oregon Governor and the Peter DeFazio for Congress campaign. He also became a volunteer with the Human Rights Campaign and the Oregon Riders Society motorcycle group.

Devon says he started, “With my school community and I plan to work my way up, all the way to the top.”


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