When sensitive photos of three students circulated online early in the school year, Penticton Secondary School vice-principal Todd Manuel knew he had to act.
The photos, which showed the students in a nude or semi-nude state and had been taken by themselves or others, weren’t meant for widespread dissemination.
“It got to a point where it had just gone viral with other students, and they were devastated,” Manuel on Tuesday told a committee of the Okanagan Skaha School District board of trustees.
The students’ families were also “severely impacted,” Manuel continued, so he spoke to principal Alan Stel and the two men decided something had to be done. The very next day, news broke about B.C. teenager Amanda Todd’s suicide.
Todd’s death, sparked by cyberbullying over nude photos of her that spread through social media, “galvanized people to move forward on something,” Manuel continued.
That something is a new sexual exploitation action committee at Penticton Secondary, the first meeting of which in October attracted 34 representatives from a range of community service providers, all of whom are interested in stopping sexual exploitation and its related problems, like cyberbullying.
“We really do feel like we’re morally obligated to push forward with something,” Manuel said.
The next step is a meeting with parents on Nov. 14.
Manuel said the group will focus on prevention, such as teaching kids about the dangers of distributing nude images of themselves, and support, like resources for kids who have been traumatized by cyberbullying.
“I commend you for starting this, but it’s way too late. We’ve got to start this in elementary school,” Trustee Shelley Clarke told Manuel. “I think you’ve got to get to the parents. They have to have really honest and open communication with their children at a younger age. Even though it’s very uncomfortable to have that conversation, your kid’s got to know,” Clarke said.
Trustee Tracy St. Claire said parents, even of elementary-aged students, also need to get up to speed with what websites their kids visit and what social media they use.
“If you’re not up to date on all those media all the time,” St. Claire said, “then I don’t know how you’d keep up.”
For more details on the Nov. 14 meeting, which is set for 4 p.m. at Penticton Secondary, contact Manuel at 250-770-7750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.