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District to implement bullying prevention program

MORRIS, Minn. - The Morris Area School District will be implementing a new bullying prevention program during the 2012-2013 school year that uses community data to develop a consistent message about acceptable behavior for students and staff across the district.

Cheryl Kuhn, student leader advisor and service learning coordinator, presented the school board with information about the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a school-wide program designed to prevent or reduce bullying in schools.

"In the research we did on programs, [Olweus] continually rose to the top," said Kuhn. "The data supporting it is phenomenal."

Olweus was founded by a team at Clemson University, and more than 35 years of research in a number of countries that provide data to support the program. The program is designed to teach everyone in the school community to identify bullying and how to distinguish it from students just goofing around, how to react to bullying consistently and effectively follow up with the victim, bully and bystanders.

"Data says that 63 percent of all kids that bully for a year or longer in school become incarcerated as adults," Kuhn said. "If the kids in your school feel safe enough to come up to you and say, 'I saw this behavior, this is what's going on,' and [know] that you're going to respond to it, the bystanders can take care of a lot of things that go on by themselves."

The first step of the implementation process is to form a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee that consists of representatives from across the district - everyone from students to teachers to administrators to coaches to parents.

After the committee is formed, a questionnaire will be sent out to all students in grades three through 12. The questionnaire helps to identify what types of respect or discipline issues the school is facing and when those problems are happening. The data is analyzed by researchers at Clemson University and used to develop a specialized training program for the district.

Clemson University trainers work with members of the coordinating committee, which is then responsible for training every other adult in the district.

Other components to the program include developing class rules, holding two twenty-minute classroom meetings, increasing supervision, initiating individual interventions, hosting staff discussion groups and holding parent meetings.

Data collected about Olweus suggests that if all parts of the program are implemented, a district will see a 50 to 70 percent reduction in respect/bullying issues, Kuhn said.

The total cost for Olweus over two years is about $48,000. About $8,000 of the total will be used for general expenses like books, staff release time, meeting expenses and substitute times. The remaining $40,000 is for Kuhn's salary as the Olweus Coordinator and Student Leader Advisor for the next two years.

Kuhn said the district has a $10,000 Otto Bremer Foundation Grant that will be used to cover the program's general expenses.

Superintendent Scott Monson told the board that there are challenges to implementing the program. For example, there will likely need to be some changes to the 2012 - 2013 school calendar to accommodate staff training with the program.

If the program implementation goes as planned, students could fill out the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire as early as the end of this school year, with coordinating committee training starting in August.

Before they offered approval, members of the school board asked questions and expressed some concerns about whether this program was the right one for the school to invest in.

"I really like the idea of a consistent message," said Wulf. However, Wulf said he was concerned that marketing the program as a "bullying prevention program" would have a negative spin.

"The label might be there, but I think it's a positive, proactive," said Brent Fuhrman. "I think within the program, other than the labels, you can steer it the way you want to."

"There's going to be a certain framework that Olweus wants the district to follow, but I would also like what Stan suggested, that we have the option to customize the program," said Dick Metzger.