Committed to creating a climate in which “all students feel welcome, safe and ready to learn,” Anoka-Hennepin School District assembled an anti-bullying/anti-harassment task force in September 2012.
Its mission: to advise administration regarding how best to foster a positive educational climate free of bullying and harassment.
At the July 8 school board meeting, Associate Superintendent Jinger Gustafson, Title IX/Equity Coordinator Jennifer Cherry and task force member Judi Orland presented a report detailing the work of the task force over the past year.
Members of the task force include parents, teachers, principals, district administrators, community members and four students (two attending District 11 middle schools and two attending District 11 high schools).
“We spent a solid year working on this report with three charges: to bring forth concerns of students and parents, to recommend strategies to prevent harassment and to create outreach strategies to parents and families,” said Cherry, introducing the report to board members.
Addressing each of those charges, nine recommendations were presented to the board during its July 8 meeting.
• Recommendation one describes the framework for continuing the task force, including ongoing monthly meetings, facilitation of those meetings by trained external experts, the formation of subcommittees and the continued membership of current task force members.
However, Cherry said that she expects “half the current membership will turn over” for various reasons – which she declined to specify – but expressed the task force’s desire to “increase the diversity of members on the task force.”
“Task force members who choose not to return should be replaced to keep the task force membership at 25-30 members,” she said. “We want to increase the diversity of members on the task force.”
• Recommendation two calls for student education regarding anti-bullying/cyberbullying and anti-harassment education and bystander empowerment for every student.
• Recommendation three urges the district to continue providing ongoing professional development involving all staff who interact with students.
• Recommendation four calls for the district to create a clearinghouse for anti-bullying/anti-harassment resources.
Orland requested that the district ask a grant writer to obtain additional funding for anti-bullying/anti-harassment efforts.
• Recommendation five describes a number of ways in which the district could implement site specific methods to ensure a consistently safe and welcoming environment. Those include placing monitors in the hallways, locker rooms and recess areas; create universally accessible and gender neutral bathrooms; establishing a hotline or drop box for anonymous reports of bullying or harassment; requiring school uniforms; and establishing more late starts/early release days for staff development.
• Recommendation six asks that support regarding student mental wellness be improved and education and awareness of mental health issues be increased.
• Recommendation seven details ways to promote a positive culture throughout the school district. Suggested methods include developing a student code of conduct with positive student-friendly language, defining “respect,” letting teachers have a voice “without feeling like they could lose their jobs because of it,” updating and refining peer mediation and providing leadership opportunities for Gay Straight Alliance students.
• Recommendation eight suggests that the district partner with families to achieve safe and welcoming schools and communities.
• Recommendation nine asks the district to develop a comprehensive communication plan to gather input and provide consistent information about safety and inclusiveness for all people in Anoka-Hennepin schools.
“These recommendations are broad-based and will serve as a framework for continued work of the task force in the coming years,” Cherry said.
But she said that some of the recommendations need further exploration and refining.
Sue Austreng is at firstname.lastname@example.org