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Nancy Riestenberg, with the Minnesota Department of Education, held a discussion group about bullying prevention Wednesday with students from Bemidji High School and Schoolcraft Learning Community. Shown participating in the discussion or peacemaking and bullying prevention were Terrance Davenport, left, and Savannah Lacroix. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

State task force on prevention of school bullying meets with Bemidji students, parents, educators

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI -The Governor's Task Force Prevention of School Bullying met with Bemidji students, parents and educators Wednesday evening kicking off a series of sessions to help redefine the state's anti-bullying statute.

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"The Governor has organized a task force of citizens from around the state to make recommendations to the Governor and to the Legislature in regards that might be put forth that would direct all the school districts in the state as to how they should address bullying," said Nancy Riestenberg, School Climate Specialist at the Department of Education.

Riestenberg joined members of the task force to speak with students from Bemidji High School and students from Schoolcraft to discuss their concerns about bullying and ways in which they think it could be prevented.

Students like Thomas Caddy and Tia Siddens, 9th graders at Bemidji High School, bullying is present at the school and it is seen both physically and verbally.

"Words hurt more than fists in a lot of situations because if the physical wound isn't there it could still leave a mark on the mind," Siddens said.

The students said the most common targets of bullying in school are people of different race, sexual orientation or people with a mental disability.

"People who don't have a lot of friends are targeted more because if you don't always have those friends there to help speak up," Schoolcraft student Katie Fgevje said. "With less friends you are more vulnerable in my eyes because you don't have that person to kind of help you get through it."

When asked what the students would recommend the task force do to help the bullying problem in schools, a lot of students said there needs to be an effort to teach students from a young age why bullying is wrong, but also to teach the staff how to resolve and prevent bully situations.

"We have some programs that address bullying and I am happy we have them but I don't think they are exactly effective because if the person is doing it they are not going to be listening to the reasons why they are not supposed to be doing it," Thomas Caddy said.

Riestenberg said this was the first of many student sessions she and the task force will conduct but she said she was impressed by how engaging the students were.

"They confirmed for me what I teach in my job as the school climate specialist at the Department of Education and gave insight to the task force about what students face and what they need," Riestenberg said.

Following the parent session, the task force went to the middle school to meet with parents and educators to see what their concerns and recommendations were.

The common concern among the parents was the issue of cyber bullying in addition to racial and sexual orientation bullying. The parents agreed that the school and the parents need to make sure students know their resources on who they can talk to when being bullied.

"We need to be held accountable for our own actions and we not only need to listen to our kids but we need to show them that we are trying to do something," Marty Cobenais, a parent in attendance said. "If we don't make an effort to do something our kids are not going to come talk to us when they have a problem."

Bemidji School Superintendent James Hess said the bullying issue is one that does need to be addressed not only at the school level but also the community level.

"I think about bullying and I think about the school's role in bullying and I don't think the school is the place to lay all of the blame," Hess said. "I know that if you walk into any classroom in the district you won't find any teachers teaching bullying. I think we need to be a part of the search for a solution to bullying but I don't think we are the stopping place, we are the starting place. We need to look at the greater community to find solutions that are going to be the lasting solutions."

The task force will be meeting with schools across the state and will pass along recommendations to the Legislature by August.

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