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Menahga considers bullying prevention program

In a small district like Menahga with elementary and high school students walking the halls of the same building, bullying is more likely to occur.

Menahga High School principal Mary Klamm presented the school board earlier this week with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a systemic approach to end bullying in the schools.

About 75 percent of the time when students are in the principals' offices, it's about bullying, Klamm told the board.

"Bullying creates a climate of fear and disrespect," Klamm said. "Just walking down the hall, you can feel it."

The program isn't a curriculum, conflict resolution, peer mediation or an anger management program. Its purpose is to educate teachers, staff, bus drivers, cooks, janitors and any adult with regular contact with the students to enforce nonphysical, non-hostile consequences for the bullies and support the bullied.

Students and staff don't recognize the behavior as bullying and sometimes think it's just goofing around, Klamm said.

Olweus also focuses on changing the norm.

Many times when you tell parents their kids are being bullied, they'd just say, 'oh they just need to toughen up,' Klamm said.

The program starts with a questionnaire, which will be distributed to students this spring, to find out when and where bullying is happening.

The second step is to bring the trainers from Olweus to the school. Training teachers and the support staff would make students more comfortable addressing the issues sooner instead of having to wait to speak to the principals.

Both principals are already planning for regularly scheduled meetings between each teacher and his or her students that will solely focus on bullying prevention.

"You're going to be building a level of trust and safety for the kids," elementary principal Joleen DeLaHunt said.

During the meeting, school board clerk Shiela Parvi asked if bullying is a big problem in the schools.

"It is a big was when we were kids and it's even more sophisticated now," superintendent Jerry Nesland said.

The program costs between $8,000 and $10,000 in the first year with a significantly lower amount in upcoming years to train new staff.

Next month, the school board will vote to add the program to next year's budget. If moved, training will take place during the first two days of the fall semester.

In other business, the school board:

-Voted to withdraw advertising for the high school principal vacancy and fill the position internally with dean of students Brian Johnson acting as principal for two years. The board may amend the decision any time during those two years if necessary.

The decision will save the board $95,000. Nesland said he doesn't recommend this model for other districts but it will work for Menahga because of its strong staff.

-Voted to purchase an additional 71-passenger school bus to stop at the west route.

The current buses are up to full capacity and with the projected rising enrollment next year, Nesland said it's necessary to add the route and shorten travel time for students.

-Agreed to direct the administration to make recommendations for reductions in programs and positions to help tighten next year's budget.

"It's better to be proactive especially with the way the state's budget is going," chairman Durwin Tomperi said.

-Named Hunter Grobe the architect for the proposed building expansion project.

Once the architect, financial management firm Ehlers & Associates and construction firm JP Structures put together a plan, a public hearing will be scheduled to communicate the process to the public.

-Discussed installing phones in the classrooms and adding an instant alert system to enhance the communication with parents. The instant alert system would notify parents, via telephone, of late starts, closures, bus delays and any other announcements with the push of a button rather than manually dialing every phone number on the calling list.

-Heard Nesland's recommendation to start school Sept. 1 instead of the day after Labor Day, which is Sept. 8 this year.

The board can't vote on the changes of the calendar until it's passed in the state legislature, but Nesland encouraged members to contact their legislators with the recommendation because the days of the fall are more productive than spring.

The next Menahga School Board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 23.