Bullying policies vary widely
ALBERT LEA (AP) — The state has provided public schools with a baseline policy on how to address issues of bullying, but some educators say the approach individual districts or schools take to resolve the problem can vary widely.
Minnesota’s policy classifies bullying as a dynamic that has an imbalance of power, is a repetitive behavior and involves offensive intimidating, threatening, abusive or harmful conduct. Bullying “substantially interferes with the student’s education opportunities, performance or ability to participate in school functions, activities or programs,” the policy said.
Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk told the Albert Lea Tribune that the district’s bullying prevention policy is vague because issues are addressed on a case-by-case basis.
The Minnesota Department of Education’s State Model Student Bullying Prohibition policy sets the state standard for addressing bullying. The policy was created following the 2014 Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which requires Minnesota schools to create a bullying policy and consistently review it.
The act strengthened local policies by requiring additional elements, said Craig Wethington, the director of the Minnesota Department of Education’s School Safety Technical Assistance Center.
The state’s model emphasizes the importance of investigating reports of bullying and maintaining investigation records.
Maintaining records allows school officials to monitor for a pattern of behavior, said David Bunn, principal of New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School.
While the state’s model gives schools three days to launch an investigation after a report of bullying is filed, the Albert Lea district and United South Central typically begin investigations within 24 hours.
Despite the guidelines, a bullying policy can only do so much, said Mike Funk, the superintendent at Albert Lea Area Schools.
“The Minnesota state Legislature cannot legislate away bullying,” Funk said.
School officials can’t always see all the bullying that occurs, said Kathy Niebuhr, director of secondary programs at Albert Lea. The community also needs to step into the conversation about bullying, she said.