Parents seek change at BEA

BLUE EARTH — Following an emotional school board meeting Nov. 20, a letter was handed to the Blue Earth Area School Board, requesting that the school make significant changes to the way bullying is handled.

Heather Haase, who authored the letter, had seen an Instagram post by a Blue Earth Area student concerning the recent assault, which Haase reposted. Soon, her inbox was flooded with messages from parents and even students wanting to talk to her about their personal experiences with bullying. Haase said about 30 people came forward.

“Even though I didn’t intend to be the voice for the parents, it just kind of happened that way,” Haase said.

After hearing many stories, she noticed that everyone was saying the same kind of things, such as how the school would often deal with bullying complaints by accommodating the bully, such as making the victims move lockers and ride a different bus.

It was clear to her something had to be done.

“After everything I had heard and listened to and I was just so disturbed and it made my mind go to, ‘OK, so basically what everyone is asking for are these things,'” Haase said.

The letter, addressed to the school board, lays out five requests:

1. The school board to review all policies and procedures regarding student conduct, bullying and the roles of the administration to provide a safe and fair learning environment.

2. An extensive investigation of how all reported bullying incidents, both in and out of school, have been handled at all grade levels, as well as a student and parent questionnaire on what incidents have been reported but not documented by the school.

“Students have expressed fear of retaliation for reporting incidents because they feel the school administration has failed to enforce consequences for incidents that happen elsewhere, which sends the message to bullies that it’s okay to hurt other members of our school as long as you don’t do it at school,” the letter states.

3. The termination of any staff member who knew about and purposely covered up any criminal activity to protect bullies in order to allow them to play in sporting events.

4. Additional education for staff and students regarding bullying.

5. A full report to the community of the action that will be taken by the school board to ensure a safe and fair learning environment for all students. The letter requests that this be done by the Dec. 18 board meeting.

Haase posted the letter on Facebook for advice and changes from other parents before handing the letter to the school board. At the same meeting, many parents and community members stood up to voice their concerns about bullying and give personal testimonials.

Following the school board meeting, many concerned parents also reached out to the Sentinel with stories of how Blue Earth Area has dealt with bullying in the past. For the safety of their children, they asked to remain anonymous.

A mother of a student athlete said her son has been bullied by his older teammates, even being told to kill himself on multiple occasions. When she told her son’s coach, she said he simply said he would talk to the bully. Recently, her son was assaulted in the hallways, but nothing came from the bullying complaint. The woman said the constant bullying has discouraged her son from wanting to be involved in athletics.

Another woman said her daughter was being bullied by her teacher, who would not allow her to go to the bathroom, despite having a bladder problem. The woman said her daughter is often yelled at when she asks to go to the bathroom, and told she is only allowed to go to the bathroom twice a day. K-7 Principal Melissa McGuire said the limit on bathroom visits is not school policy.

A third woman said her son had been severely bullied during his time at Blue Earth Area, causing him to attempt to take his own life. The woman said that when she reported the bullying to administrators, her son was transferred to a different school, where he received an education of lesser quality. Last summer, she said, her son was assaulted by a Blue Earth Area student athlete.

Haase’s name is the only one on the letter, and she said there is a reason for that. After speaking with many parents and students, she said it was clear there is a widespread fear of retaliation.

“A big consensus is that there’s a lot of fear to come forward and say their stories because either parents were saying, ‘Look, I’ve already gone to the principal, I’ve already gone to the school. They’re not doing anything,'” Haase said.

She said the goal of the letter is not to attack the school or school board, but to encourage change.

“If the problem is truly in the administration, which I believe it is, then the school board wouldn’t necessarily know about it, but they’re the ones that are going to have to deal with the administration, and they needed to know about it,” Haase said.

School board chairman Frankie Bly said the school board is putting together a task force to look into the current school policies and to develop a new bullying policy. The task force will include concerned parents and will be put into place by today or Thursday. Because of this timeline, Bly said, a full report will not be available by the next school board meeting, as the letter requests. However, he said, the concerns of parents and students are being taken seriously.

“It’s going to take some time to put this together and have people look at it and look at concerns that they have and how we set up a new policy,” Bly said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”