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Superintendent Bagstad responds to bullying concerns

The following is a May 2 press release from Lance Bagstad, superintendent of Park Rapids Area Schools.

As Superintendent of Schools at Park Rapids Area Schools, I want to address concerns raised recently regarding the culture and climate for students within our district. Since there are strict state and federal data privacy rules that prohibit me from discussing individual student matters, I will focus on the "big picture."

Some have raised the question of whether there is a culture of student "bullying" within our district. This is a fair question for students, parents and the community to ask. I do not believe we have such a culture, but I acknowledge that there are individual student situations and conflicts amongst students that arise from time-to-time, as I think you will find in most school districts. I strongly believe that we must continually work on these issues. No student should have to endure bullying, harassment, discrimination or retaliation at school.

At times children make decisions that I wish they had not, treat each other poorly or violate school behavioral expectations. As an educational institution, we take the approach of first gathering information about the incident and investigating and then responding to the information in a reasonable way. At times, disciplinary consequences are assigned, including in school suspension, out of school suspension or even expulsion. At each step, we are mindful of our obligation to educate students about their behaviors and the impacts of their choices.

Our school board has passed several policies that we, as administrators, use to guide us when concerns arise related to discrimination, harassment, bullying and retaliation.

At this time, we have turned a pending complaint of bullying over to an external investigator and an independent investigation will be conducted promptly. The findings of the investigation will be released directly to the school board. We will use the information gained from this process to respond in a reasonable manner and in compliance with the Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Act.

Next week, National School Safety Consulting will be working with our middle school staff and students regarding relationships and bullying.

Looking into next school year, I have engaged our school district legal counsel to conduct a training at our fall in-service where all staff will be retrained on the proper procedures for addressing bullying in compliance with the law and our administrative staff will be retrained regarding investigating and handling complaints.

We are committed as a district to constant improvement and continuing education. I am also currently researching a student-focused training to implement at the beginning of the next school year to make sure that we are sending a clear message about what types of behavior are acceptable and unacceptable and what the consequences are of unacceptable behavior.

From a "big picture" standpoint, I am proud of our staff, students, school and community. I look forward to working with all groups to improve the culture, climate and academic opportunities for all students at Park Rapids Area Schools.

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