When a child steps onto the school bus, enters a classroom or uses the internet, there is the expectation of safety. For the Stillwater Area Public Schools, the recently enacted Safe and Supportive Schools Act will provide the district with tools to promote positive behavior in the classroom and beyond, according to Director of Student Support Services Paul Lee.
“The district is very supportive of the act, and is a very good bill for us and other school districts in Minnesota,” Lee said.
The act, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton April 9, directs public and charter schools to adopt local policies to prevent and prohibit school bullying, and Stillwater schools are already ahead of the change.
“The act aligns with the policies we have in place now, but we will be reviewing all our policies to make sure we are in compliance with the law,” Lee said. “It will actually enhance our current policy.”
In addition to providing policies to combat bullying incidents, it gives a clear definition of what behaviors, and patterns of behaviors, should be considered bullying in Minnesota schools. This definition includes cyberbullying and other online forms of bullying through social media.
“The timing and support from this bill aligns with our Bridge to Excellence initiative,” Lee said. “It has a focus on community involvement that is a part of our strategic plan for the next two years.”
Also required by the act is the designation of a staff member at each school to monitor and investigate reports of bullying behavior. In Stillwater schools, this person is the building’s principal.
“If there is a concern by a parent or student of bullying taking place, the principal is the person they should contact,” Lee said. “When a behavior intervenes with a student’s ability to learn during the school day — regardless of when or where the events are taking place — we consider that bullying.”
What the school district will focus on as they review the policies outlined in the act is the training requirements for teachers and staff.
“The district will be required to provide all staff with training to identify bullying behavior and how to intervene,” Lee said. “This includes cafeteria staff, bus drivers, paraprofessionals — all staff will be included.”
For parents, the act will encourage more communication from the school district about incidents of bullying.
“We know that there is concern from the community about bullying, and the school district shares that concern,” Lee said. “I think the emphasis on training will bring more communication to the community and to parents.”
Also directed by the act is the creation of a School Safety Technical Assistance Center at the Minnesota Department of Education to help schools with training for teachers and staff, gather data on bullying in Minnesota schools, review best practices, and help school districts develop and implement anti-bullying policies at the local level.
“The center could be used if an incident of bullying is unclear, or if there is a disagreement on how to respond to an issue,” Lee said. “It will provide information, and to help the district stay aware of best practices and curriculum.”
Lee gave a presentation on the Safe and Supportive Schools Act during a meeting with the school district administration on April 15, and policies are currently being reviewed.
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]