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Todd Whitmire, principal of Pittsburg High School, talks to the media about his decision to suspend students because of comments they made on social media sites about a fight that took place last week on campus in Pittsburg, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

PITTSBURG -- Several students were suspended from Pittsburg High School after sharing a photo posted on the Instagram social network site that included derogatory comments about a girl whom the principal was trying to restrain during a fight, authorities said.

Principal Todd Whitmire said it wasn't the posting of the photo that got the suspended students in trouble but rather the comments that were added to the photo, which he said amounts to cyberbullying through a social network. The two students who fought were also suspended earlier this week for their actions as called for under the state education code.

"It was the reposting, the retweeting, and keeping it alive and assigning negative comments to it and creating a hostile environment" for the girl, he said Wednesday of the posts that followed Friday's on-campus fight.

A new state law that went into effect in 2012 strengthened California's anti-cyber bullying laws to include posts on social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

"It's a tool for educators to use," said Peggy Marshburn, spokeswoman for the Contra Costa County office of education. "That was not something that school districts had before."

The fight between the students, both ninth-graders, started with a verbal altercation on school grounds.

"The young lady hit him and he hit her back," said Whitmire, who intervened in the fight to separate the two.

The posted photo, taken by a student with a cellphone, distorts what happened in that it gives the perception that the girl is being held in a choke hold around the neck, Whitmire said.

"I had separated her and she began struggling and I was pushing her away to get her away from the area and she fell down," he said.

The girl told authorities she was injured by the male student, he said. She arrived at school on Monday with a neck brace, but a video taken of her by a school resource officer shows her moving around comfortably in a classroom. She could not be reached for comment.

Most physical or verbal altercations on campus originate in social network communications, though the fight between the boy and the girl did not, Whitmire said.

"Social media can be a very positive influence and great way to communicate, but also at the same time it can be very disruptive and very dangerous," he said.

Dorothy Epps, associate superintendent for the Pittsburg Unified School District, said the posted comments were inappropriate and the photo "didn't tell the whole story. We we're concerned about the students' safety; there was a fight going on and the principal intervened."

Before the fight broke out, Pittsburg police responded to the school after receiving a tip that a handful of students were planning a brawl at lunchtime, Lt. Ron Raman said.

"We had some information through social media that several students were planning a fight," Raman said. "So we had our school resource officers and additional officers show up to the school to (back up) staff. We had at least six officers and a supervisor there."

As anticipated, Raman said, several fights broke out in the quad area -- a common area that includes the school cafeteria.

"During (the melee), staff members were pulling people away from one another. The principal tried to pull a student away and she fell and he fell down with her," said Raman, adding there is no evidence any battery took place and that no charges are pending.

Staff writer Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.