Deadline nears for school bullying policies

BISMARCK – Schools across the state are taking an approach often used by students: waiting until the last minute to turn in their homework.

The state Department of Public Instruction has received only 74 bullying policies of the 235 required to be turned in by July 1.

The Legislature officially gave the assignment on March 17, 2011, after the Senate gave final approval to a law requiring school districts to have bullying policies. Both public and private schools fall under the law.

The state Department of Public Instruction does not have authority to sanction school districts if they don’t turn in policies, said Valerie Fischer, director of safe and healthy schools. However, the department will publicize any that don’t, she said.

“We believe, between the School Boards Association and the department, we have provided resources and training so there really is no reason why it shouldn’t be done,” she said.

Bill sponsor Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, thinks districts likely got busy at the end of the school year and put off officially turning in their policies. She thinks schools will be on board by July 1 even though there isn’t punishment for not complying.

“There’s a number of policies where we say you have to do something and there’s really no punishment if they don’t do it,” she said. “I think that the schools are seeing this is something that they need to have in place.”

The public school districts in Hillsboro, West Fargo, Fargo, Wahpeton, Valley City, Jamestown, Dickinson and South Heart are among those that have submitted policies to the state.

Central Cass Schools in Casselton is one district that hasn’t turned in a policy yet. Superintendent Mark Weston said the policy is done.

“Ours is just a matter of getting it to the department,” he said.

About 20 people participated in creating the district’s bullying policy, which is similar to a template provided by the North Dakota School Boards Association, Weston said.

Grand Forks Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson also said his district will meet the July 1 deadline. A final review of the district’s policy is set for June 18.

The state law says school districts needed to involve parents, school employees, volunteers, students, law enforcement, domestic violence sexual assault organizations and community representatives when developing a bullying policy.

The policy must include a definition of bullying, procedures for reporting and documenting bullying or retaliation, and disciplinary measures. There must also be strategies to protect victims.

Schools need to make sure the policy is explained to students. Districts also would need to provide information about bullying prevention to staff and school volunteers.

The law requires each school district to provide bullying prevention programs to all K-12 students. The law also addresses immunity for liability for school districts.

North Dakota School Boards Association Executive Director Jon Martinson thinks school districts will meet the deadline to turn in policies.

“I think that school districts want to do the right thing,” he said. “They will do the right thing.”

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