Students of the School District of Menomonie Area urged the board of education to consider changes to its policies on bullying during public comments at the board’s meeting on Monday.
Concerns about a culture of bullying — specifically toward those who identify with the LGBTQ community — were shared by students from the middle and high school.
Sixth-grader Tahya Johnson said bullying is a crisis happening at schools across the country, including within the schools in the Menomonie district. Johnson asked the board to ensure students of the district that those in leadership are taking steps to keep kids safe in school.
“Menomonie schools can do better, so we must do better on how we handle bullying,” Johnson said. “No student should ever be afraid to come to school. How a student is treated by his or her peers should never be so bad that is causes mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.”
Johnson also asked how school staff are trained to spot bullying, protect victims of bullying and educated on the effects of bullying.
“Public schools have a responsibility to create a safe learning environment,” Johnson said.
The district has a diversity committee meeting next week. The policy on bullying for the district will be a discussion item at the board’s next meeting, board president Amy Riddle-Swanson said.
District Administrator Joe Zydowsky said he plans to present a bullying report that includes feedback from the diversity committee at the next meeting.
Owaine Collins, a student at the middle school, said some students feel afraid they could be hurt by other students at school. Teachers and staff don’t take the proper approach to bullying, Collins said.
“Over half the kids I talked to said the school’s systems and policies were one of the things keeping them from coming out and feeling safe,” Collins said.
High school student Rowan Freeman said bullies aren’t concerned about consequences of harassing other students because only an intervention will occur. This leads to students being unwilling to report the harassment, Freeman said.
“Your policy on bullying says bigotry is not welcome here. If that is true why is it so common?” Freeman asked.
With official enrollment counts having been taken, the board also unanimously approved the hiring of two additional paraeducators — one at Wakanda Elementary and one at the high school.
It is anticipated that the staff additions will fit under the budget that will be considered at the next meeting when the final budget is presented to the board, Zydowsky said.
“Based on the needs of the students, we feel this recommendation is necessary,” he added.
The board approved the renewal of the district’s current health insurance plan for staff. The district is also working on another higher deductible single plan for staff, Zydowsky said. The plan option is expected to be available by the end of the year.
The next board of education meeting will be Oct. 28 at the district’s administrative service center.