Around a dozen community members attended the Emmetsburg Community Schools Board of Education meeting on Dec. 21, to discuss the topic of bullying. Parents of students, Julie Bird and Marsha Duhn, spoke briefly to the board members during the open forum portion of the meeting.
"I'm not sure if you're aware, but there is a lot of bullying going on at every level," said Julie Bird, who has a daughter who has been indirectly involved in bullying. "I would like you to address this and fix this, and be more proactive than reactive. Kids need to learn compassion and humility at home, but apparently that's not happening everywhere."
Bird wondered if the district could apply for a grant to do a program on bullying for the students.
"I would hate to see this escalate into something that could be very tragic," Bird surmised.
"There are kids in eighth grade right now who are scared and worried about going to the high school next year," added Marsha Duhn. "There has to be a way to stop it or make it better because the bullying is really bad."
Board President B.J. Schany noted that the board would take their comments into consideration.
Later in the meeting, the topic of bullying was again addressed during the review of the recommendations stemming from the recent Superintendent Advisory Committee meeting.
Superintendent John Joynt shared that at the meeting, results from the 2010 Iowa Youth Survey were reviewed, including bullying and harassment. According to Joynt, the middle/high school culture climate committee was formed to enhance the school district's procedures to reduce and eliminate bullying and harassment at the school. Per a student survey, the greatest concerns involved students being isolated (especially eating alone during lunch) and gossip.
Jay Jurrens, middle/high school principal, explained that an entire day is devoted to educating students about the impact of bullying at the high school and middle school, alternating every other year. Last year, the middle school students took part in a bullying workshop; this year, the high school students will take part. West Elementary Principal Joe Carter also shared that bullying prevention is conducted at the elementary level.
Jurrens reviewed the bullying/harassment procedures established by the school district. Step 1 involves the harassed student telling the bully to stop their behavior. Step 2 involves the student seeking assistance from a teacher, counselor, etc. to stop the bully. Step 3 has the student seeking assistance from an adult and documenting the details of what occurred. If the bullying continues, Step 4 involves the student immediately reporting the incident to a staff member.
Depending on the severity of the harassment, there may be a meeting with parents, detention after school, suspension from school ranging from one to four days, and expulsion from school.
"On a first offense, we are likely to start with a lower penalty and move up the scale of punishment if the behavior continues," said Jurrens. "Our goal is to educate and get to where the behavior is not repeated."
"Does the committee we have working on bullying have student members?" asked Tammy Naig, board member. "I think we're going to have to use students as our resource to figure out how to stop this. It's difficult to police what they put on Facebook and what they text. We may need to look to the kids to solve this issue."
"We do have steps in place but I don't see that this is doing it," said board member Karla Anderson.
Jurrens noted that there have been fewer bullying complaints this year than the previous year.
"Do you think it's less or do you think they're just not coming forward?" asked board member Kathy Roethler.
Jurrens replied that he wasn't sure.
"My concern is that this could escalate very quickly," said Roethler.
"Unfortunately with Facebook and texting, it could start out with one person and snowball from there in just a few hours," board member Scott Kibbie noted.
"If we actually do have a zero tolerance policy, the consequences for bullying have to be swift and they have to be severe," Roethler added.
"All of the adults up here do not want to see a child bullied," said Anderson. "I encourage parents to talk to their children and if you've got a problem, bring it here and get it solved."
Naig wondered if the school district could organize an assembly on bullying for both students and their parents to attend. Schany suggested a bullying program be held annually instead of every other year at the middle school and high school.
With no further discussion, the topic was brought to a close.