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School Board takes step forward against cyber bullying

The Bemidji School Board has given its initial approval to add specific wording that would address cyber bullying in the Bemidji School District's bullying prohibition policy.

But some board members said they want to have more discussion on the issue before giving their final approval.

On Monday night, the board voted 5-0 to approve the first reading of a revised version of the bullying prohibition policy. Board member Bill Faver was absent from the meeting.

The board is scheduled to hold a second reading of the revised policy and vote on whether to adopt it Feb. 25.

Last spring, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law a mandate requiring all school districts to address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including electronic forms and forms involving the Internet, in their bullying prohibition policies.

The Bemidji School District is proposing to add wording to its existing policy that the Minnesota School Boards Association is recommending school districts use to address the new mandate, said Bob Vaadeland, assistant superintendent/director of special education. The wording states that bullying could include misusing technology to tease, intimidate, defame, threaten or terrorize another student or school district employees, volunteers or contractors.

The method of bullying could include the sending or posting of e-mail messages, instant messages, text messages, digital pictures or images, or Web site postings, including blogs. And, according to the proposed wording, these actions may be considered bullying regardless of whether committed on or off school district property and/or with or without the use of school district resources.

Board member Steven H. Johnson questioned whether the policy should include the wording that states "regardless of whether committed on or off school district property and/or with or without the use of school district resources," and suggested the board discuss the issue further.

Board member John Pugleasa agreed that the proposed wording creates a gray area and also asked for more discussion on the issue.

However, he also said bullying and intimidation isn't something that just happens within school walls. He said such actions that occur outside of school could roll over into the school setting.

Because only the first reading was held Monday night, board members and administrators will have more time to discuss the issue further before making a final decision, Superintendent Jim Hess said.

"I believe that there's some gray in this and we're going to have to work through this," he said.

One way the school district could determine whether an action is subject to its discipline -- regardless of where it originates -- is to consider whether the action could create a substantial disruption to the school community or a danger to students, staff members or the school community as a whole, Vaadeland said.

When the revised policy is adopted, the school district will have to revise its code of consequences, he added.

Ann Long Voelkner, who was elected board chairwoman Monday night, said cyber bullying is a very serious issue. The first step, she noted, is that parents need to be monitoring their children so cyber bullying can be resolved outside of school.

"It's happening, and it's serious," Long Voelkner said.