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New policy targets bullying

District 196 schools are putting some new rules in place to nip bullying in the bud.

The district already has rules about dealing with bullies spread throughout several of its policies, but a new policy presented to school board members Monday represents what district attorney Jill Coyle called an attempt to be "more intentional, more purposeful," when it comes to dealing with the problem.

Bullying has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. The state of Minnesota has a statute requiring all school districts to have a written policy prohibiting bullying and intimidation in all of its forms. That statute has come under some criticism for not providing enough guidance on what those policies should look like, though, and now a task force convened by Governor Mark Dayton is taking a closer look at the issue.

Coyle said District 196 decided not to wait for the results of that task force.

"The district decided we had the expertise and the knowledge to put together our own regulation," Coyle said.

A district committee made up of Coyle, principals, social workers, teachers and others from around the district put together the district's policy. The new policy requires all district schools to implement a schoolwide bullying prevention program.

Rosemount Middle School has already put a program in place. Its Olweus bullying curriculum includes weekly class meetings to discuss the effects of bullying and how to address it. RMS social worker Betsy Rose said the program largely targets bystanders and encourages them to report bullying behavior. A survey of students found that while 90 percent of students said they would want to help if they witnessed bullying, only 12 percent actually have helped.

The new policy also sets up clear definition of what bulling is. According to the district's policy, bullying activities involve an actual or perceived imbalance of power between bully and victim, willful and repeated negative behavior and actual harm or fear of harm.

"We wanted something broad enough to capture bullying in all of its forms, but narrow enough that it wasn't just every bad act a student could engage in," Coyle said.

The district will still deal with those other bad acts, Coyle said. It just won't do so under its bullying policy.

The new policy will require the designation of one person at each school to receive bullying reports. It will also require a complete investigation within 10 days of incidents identified as bullying and a follow-up with the victim within two weeks.

Rosemount schools don't have a particular problem with bullying. Coyle said surveys have shown bullying occurs about as often in District 196 as it does statewide. But she said parents have been asking for a stand-alone policy on the topic. She said the goal of the policy is to make sure schools remain a safe place for students.

"In order for our students to do their best learning, they need to be in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable," she said. "This regulation is an attempt to make sure we're creating that environment for our students."