Parents, citizens weigh in on bullying again

BLUE EARTH — Bullying, how the district has handled it in the past and how it should be dealt with in the future was a recurring topic Monday during the Blue Earth Area School Board meeting.

Parents and community members showed up to voice their concerns about how the district handles bullying. With the district conference room overflowing with people, the public input portion of the meeting had to be relocated to the elementary school multi-purpose room.

The scene was reminiscent of the school board’s November meeting, at which the multi-purpose room was filled with concerned parents, students and members of the community, many offering personal testimonials about how bullying has been handled at Blue Earth Area and calling for change. The outcry was brought on by the news of an assault involving five Blue Earth Area football players in October. According to the criminal complaint, four players held down a teammate and took turns punching and slapping him, resulting in a concussion, and severe bruising and swelling to the alleged victim’s face. The four players are currently facing charges.

Dale Hurley, the alleged victim’s father, who also spoke at the first meeting, talked about the need for change in the district.

“We need a change, and it’s been going on for a long time,” he said.

Blue Earth City Council member John Huisman, a former principal at Blue Earth Area, spoke at the meeting as a concerned member of the community, saying he did not believe the students accused of the alleged assault should have been able to return to school. Huisman suggested the school board look at other educational options for the students outside of the classroom.

“There are times when the school district, and the school board specifically, needs to take the bull by the horn and do something, because it’s not getting better,” Huisman said.

While many spoke about their concerns and what needs to be changed in the district, a few people stood up to defend the administration. Julie Ackerman, a high school science teacher, said she has never reported a bullying incident within the school that was not dealt with properly.

“I am proud of our high school,” she said. “I am proud of our students, I am proud of our administration.”

Superintendent Evan Gough spoke about the newly-formed bullying task force. It was put together following the November board meeting. Gough said the task force currently has 25 members, including parents, community members, six students, two board members, and staff and administration. The task force will have its first meeting on Monday.

“We have a number of members that are very invested in this,” Gough said. “It is going to accomplish something.”

Also on the agenda Monday was a three-year contract for Gough for 2018-2021.

While the superintendent evaluation by the school board was positive, new information caused some board members to show concern over the proposed three-year contract.

School board member Sara Hauskins spoke about the letter that was given to the school board following a closed session meeting in November at which the contract was discussed. Written by Heather Haase, on behalf of many other parents, the letter laid out five changes the district needs to make concerning bullying. Hauskins said it has been made clear the school is not providing the best learning environment for its students.

“I would not have agreed to go forward with Dr. Gough’s contract had I been provided with this information in conjunction with the public input,” Hauskins said. “Our community is speaking loud and clear, through news outlets, emails and personal contact.”

Hauskins suggested the board renegotiate a one-year contract for Gough. Despite these concerns, a three-year contract was passed by the board, 4-3.