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VIEWPOINT: Bullying prompts some students to change schools

EAST GRAND FORKS -- An interesting series of news stories has covered a school district in our area, Crookston, wanting to find out why some of its students leave for other districts. I commend the district for seeking answers, an effort that can only enhance the quality of education there. There are a myriad of reasons why students "open enroll": Parents employed in a neighboring town. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention in a smaller environment. Academic offerings more in line with students' desires.

Sports or other extracurricular opportunities.

But we at Options cover a 14-county area in North Dakota and a 12-county area in Minnesota. We serve students with disabilities, and a major factor for open enrollment that has been brought to our attention is NOT the availability of services within a particular school.

Instead, it's bullying, which occurs among all students but is especially high with special needs pupils.

Many schools in both states turn a "blind eye" when parents bring this to the attention of administrators, who too often dismiss parent concerns by saying things like "we can't be everywhere" and "bullying has always gone on" as well as -- even worse -- putting the aggressor and victim together to "work it out."

Yes, parents have brought all of these complaints to our attention.

We offer anti-bullying workshops and have done so in some schools; that's part of my job responsibilities. When talking to one school administrator, I was told that "we don't have that issue in our school," while at the time the school was being investigated for bullying by the Minnesota Disability Law Center.

We've had a hockey parent say that their student's equipment was urinated upon when he was in the shower area. We've had instances of bullying by children in the third grade; in that case, the faculty did accept an invitation for an in-service for students and faculty.

North Dakota now hasa model law on student bullying, while Minnesota still has the worst anti-bullying school law in the nation. The Minnesota statute is a "feel good" law with no mechanism for enforcement.

Some schools may have a student assembly once ayear ora curriculum at one grade level, usually in middle school. That's not enough. Most states have within their antibullying laws curriculum from K through 12.

Just look at the impact that an extensive anti-smoking curriculum has had upon children. Has smoking by students been eradicated? No, but it has been greatly lessened. Will an anti-bullying law eliminate the problem? Of course not, but it will lessen the effect and make schools recognize the issue as being serious.

Am I pointing a finger at the Crookston Public Schools? No, as I don't know all the reasons for their loss of enrollment. I think it good that they are attempting to address the issue, whatever their findings may be.

Johnson is an advocate/trainer at the Options Center for Independent Living.