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When Jessica Barba, a freshman at a New York high school, created a Facebook account for a fictional 12-year-old, she was hoping to raise awareness about bullying. But did the school project go too far? NBC's Mara Schiavocampo reports and Barba and her parents speak with TODAY's Matt Lauer about assignment that caught the attention of police and resulted in her suspension.
By Lisa Flam
The high school freshman suspended for five days after she created an anti-bullying video and Facebook page about a fictional girl who commits suicide says she tried to explain her work to school officials to no avail.
“I just created the video in order to raise awareness of the major issue that’s bullying,” 15-year-old Jessica Barba told Matt Lauer on TODAY. “I don’t understand why I’m being punished for it.”
Jessica made the six-minute video for a class at Longwood High School in Middle Island, N.Y. The assignment was to create a project about an important issue.
The video, posted on YouTube, tells the story of the fictional 12-year-old Hailey Bennett (played by Jessica), who lost her mother at age 3, is abused by her dad and is all alone after her only friend moves away. Hailey gets bullied at school daily, is mocked on her fake Facebook page, and ultimately, ends her life. The video and the Facebook page had disclaimers saying Hailey was a fictional character, according to TODAY.
A concerned parent saw Hailey’s Facebook page, which features an update saying “I wanna be dead,” and called the police, who contacted the school, according to TODAY. When Jessica was called to the assistant principal’s office, she said she was confronted with printouts that did not include her disclaimer. She tried to plead her case.
“I tried explaining it so much ... they had the printouts of the page but none of the printouts that they had were the ones where I specify that it was a fake page,” Jessica said, adding that the person who handed them over “hadn’t been able to go down far enough to see that it was fake.”
Her mother, Jody, did bring printouts showing the disclaimer to school officials, but she told Lauer, “they didn’t really care too much about that.”
Superintendent Allan Gerstenlauer told WNBC New York on Tuesday that Jessica’s video, posted online on May 15, was "unfortunate in that it created a substantial disruption to the school."
When she was punished, “I started hysterically crying,” Jessica said in an earlier interview. “I couldn’t even believe that I was getting in trouble for something that I had worked so hard on, and the only intent of it was good.”
Jessica faces a suspension hearing at school today. Her father, Michael, called the punishment “extensive,” and said he wants Jessica allowed back at school, the suspension erased and his daughter given the chance to turn in the project.
“This is a great project,” he said on TODAY. “There’s thousands of people that love it, and it can be fixed. This can be fixed, simple.”
He said: “I’m very proud of the things she’s done here.”
Jessica said her teacher knew she was making a video about bullying but didn’t know she was creating the Facebook page. Jessica said she posted the video online before turning it in. When asked by Lauer if she did things in the wrong order, she was unsure.
“No. I think that maybe it was, but I’m not too sure if I would rechange the order in which i did it,” she answered.
Jessica seems dumbfounded that she got suspended for trying to spotlight an issue she’s been learning about since she first began school.
“They’ve been been teaching us since we were in kindergarten that you treat people the way you want to be treated and not to bully,” Jessica said in the earlier interview. “Then I make some type of movement in it and I get punished for it.”
Jessica Barba's video tells the story of a fictional 12-year-old Hailey Bennett who is bullied until she commits suicide.
Watch Fake Video here:
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Interesting comments on the You Tube video. I don't fault her..I think she was doing something good but she should NOT have started a FB account and I think that is WHY she was suspended.
Prayers for our little HaLeigh Cummings, wherever she may be!!
Nine-tenths of wisdom is appreciation. Go find somebody’s hand and squeeze it, while there’s time.
-- Dale Dauten--
Thank you RAINE for all you ARE!! I will ALWAYS hold you in my Heart!!
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