Anti-bullying task force makes recommendations

UPDATED: This story has been corrected to reflect the board’s action timeline. The board will likely take action in August, not July, as previously stated.

Anoka-Hennepin’s anti-bullying and anti-harassment task force delivered its second annual report to the school board June 30, offering five actionable recommendations.

Anoka-Hennepin’s anti-bullying and anti-harassment task force presented five recommendations to the school board June 30. The recommendations dovetail with themes highlighted in the district’s annual anti-bullying poster contest, held in November: “Stop and Think: Bullying Hurts!” File photo, submitted

Anoka-Hennepin’s anti-bullying and anti-harassment task force presented five recommendations to the school board June 30. The recommendations dovetail with themes highlighted in the district’s annual anti-bullying poster contest, held in November: “Stop and Think: Bullying Hurts!” File photo, submitted

Recommendation one calls for the district to better recognize diverse family structures and characteristics by including two additional questions on the annual Parent Attitude and Satisfaction survey.

In an effort to bring more supervision into the middle schools, recommendation two suggests enlisting volunteer school ambassadors.

Recommendation three asks that Anoka-Hennepin “honor and celebrate the contributions of diverse people and families in our community, country and world, including the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.”

Recommendation four advises expanded communications around safety and inclusiveness.

Finally, increased messages of kindness are the goal of recommendation five.

The majority of the 29-member task force, made up of students, Anoka-Hennepin staff and community members, supported all five recommendations. However, recommendation three generated some controversy.

Bryan Lindquist, a district parent serving on the task force, spoke out during the communications portion of the June 30 board meeting, urging members not to take action on recommendation three because it instructs, rather than informs, he said.

He also took issue with the fact that one group, the LGBT community, is mentioned specifically in the recommendation.

“No one diverse group is or should be held as more important than any other diverse group that exists within District 11,” he said.

Beth Hentges, another parent serving on the task force, disagreed with Lindquist.

“Recommendation three does not tell anyone what to believe or how to believe or how to act,” she said. “It’s simply an awareness campaign of the history of one particular marginalized group of people in our school district.”

Jennifer Cherry, the district’s Title IX and equity coordinator and chair of the task force, pointed out Lindquist’s and Hentges’ dissenting viewpoints in the task force’s presentation to the board later in the meeting.

“From very early on, we recognized that not all members would agree,” Cherry said. “What we did agree on was that all voices would be heard.”

Working to create a school environment “where all students feel safe, welcome and ready to learn,” the task force met six times this year before settling on the five recommendations members brought before the board, Cherry said.

“They represent a consensus from a diversity of people – adults and youth – and are a means to enhance the educational environment for our children and partner with parents and community in the process,” according to Donna McDonald, violence prevention coordinator for Anoka County and a member of the task force. McDonald read the recommendations publicly June 30.

The board will look for further community input before taking action, Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann said.

The recommendations will likely come before the school board again in August, Cherry said.

If accepted, the first recommendation will take effect at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, when the year-end parent survey is administered. Two new questions will address family structure and inclusivity.

Heidemann had some questions about recommendations two and three, which will be implemented in the fall if board action allows.

Heidemann asked: Is there a model in place where adults who are not employees of the district enter the middle schools and supervise kids? Is there set training?

Anoka Middle School for the Arts is already inviting faith-based partners into the schools to help supervise students at lunch, and the training is “very robust,” said Jinger Gustafson, associate superintendent for middle schools. “We have an excellent volunteer services department within Anoka-Hennepin.”

Recommendation three calls for the celebration of LGBT History Month in October, among other actions. It was Heidemann’s understanding that LGBT History Month has already been recognized annually in the schools, with celebrations led by Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, he said. He wanted to know if recommendation three meant October’s celebrations would no longer be student-led or if there was not necessarily required change.

If accepted, the recommendation will bring a continuation of what’s already going on in secondary schools, Gustafson said. “This is just continuing to honor people and their great contributions.”

Recommendations four and five will be implemented throughout the 2014-2015 school year if they are accepted.

The task force will continue to meet through at least 2017, Cherry said at the meeting, calling for Heidemann to appoint new task force members by Sept. 22 so that the 2014-2015 assembly can begin holding monthly meetings in October.

Heidemann thanked this year’s task force members for their work.

“I’m always so impressed when a community member will come forward and give so much time to something,” he said. “It’s really what makes Anoka-Hennepin so great.”

To learn more about the anti-bullying and anti-harassment task force, visit www.anoka.k12.mn.us/antibullytf.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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