School board members discuss bullying

BISMARCK – School bullying today is not like it was in the past, and school districts need to take action.

That was the message Friday at a school cyberbullying talk for North Dakota school board members.

The topic was popular, with more than 100 people attending that session and a school bullying panel earlier in the day.

The panel was led by Fargo school officials, who discussed creating positive school climates and policies that address bullying and harassment.

Fargo School Board President Jim Johnson said school bullying is in the limelight now and the conference is a good time to discuss it.

“We’re really going to be focusing in on trying to create a safe school climate and address policies and practices that hopefully can do that throughout our district as well as throughout the state,” he said.

Rick Heidt, a consultant for F.R.I.E.N.D. in Bismarck, led the cyberbullying session and stressed the need to be proactive.

Adults who think kids will get over bullying and say, “I did. They can do it, too,” don’t understand today’s bullying, he said.

School bullying is hardly physical anymore. Now, technology like camera phones, texting, sexting, Facebook and other websites are being used, he said.

Heidt gave examples of how students can use their cell phones to take pictures of others in the bathroom or locker room and share them with others.

“Entire websites can be created that will make life torture for the person that’s being bullied,” Heidt said. “Therefore, we need to do some things differently than we have been when it comes to bullying because it’s a different animal.”

Districts need to take action against bullying because it impacts student learning, he said. Emotional scars can last a lifetime, and repeat victims can become suicidal.

Most bullying occurs in schools, and victims often will not report bullying, Heidt said.

Students need to understand their actions could affect future employment and may be crimes, he said.

Having an anti-bullying policy isn’t just about having a policy but what schools can do about the climate, said Nancy Jordheim, a Fargo assistant superintendent.

Fargo School Board member John Strand said schools need to have policies that are specific and ensure all students feel safe.

“My dream is this: That these folks leaving this seminar today and this weekend will go home and implement profound change,” he said. “If you have policies in place, it makes a difference.”

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