Superintendent, students say social media is a whole new ballgame

    Bullying. It's everywhere. And Minnesota is now amping up its effort in the fight after a lawsuit three years ago that accused the state of failing to protect its students from being bullied. The Minnesota Legislature in  2014 passed "The Safe and Supportive Schools Act" which replaced a prior law that was thought to be “one of the nation's weakest.”    

    After former Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed an anti-bullying measure in 2009, the state saw a high number of incidents and suicides among students, particularly in the Anoka-Hennepin district, which resulted in an intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice.    

    The new act requires school districts to keep track of and investigate cases of bullying and to better train teachers and staff on how to prevent it. Some school leaders have concerns about the cost of implementing the new law along with training before the start of the new school year. Rural areas, especially, could be hurt by the estimated statewide implementation costs ranging between $5 million and $25 million.    

    "Bullying has plagued our society for years," Crookston School District Superintendent Chris Bates told the Times. "We all have horror stories. Social media plays a bigger part now and kids don't understand what they're doing. Back in the good old days, if you wanted to tell 50 people you don't like a person, you had to make 50 phone calls. After six calls, you probably got tired and went on to something else. With places like Facebook, it's so easy for 100 people to see something terrible written about one of their classmates. This is what needs to change the most."   

    Bates says that over the summer months, Crookston schools will take their current policy and incorporate what needs to be done with the new bill.    

    "It will become extremely time-consuming," explained Bates. "They want us to take action before September 2014. Without question, we will have people going through some training this summer and figure out where our policy needs to be next school year. You can appreciate what the government is trying to do and ours and everyone's main goal is to create a quality environment for the kids."
Social media changes   

    According to Bates, the Crookston schools current social media policy is "pretty vague."     

    "It's mainly for staff and we need to accommodate the new changes, especially in regards to students," said Bates. "A lot of kids carry cell phones now and we need to look at our handbooks closer to see where this will fit in."    

    Crookston High School students Austin Sommerfeld and Kaitlin Selzler sat down with the Times to discuss social media bullying and what they think needs to be done.    

    "Bullying is everywhere," said Sommerfeld. "It's a problem online and it will be nice when it is more regulated within the schools."   

    "If the schools crack down on students who bully right away, it helps," added Selzler. "The new law will have positive changes. It might take care of kids who haven't got caught before."   

    Both students said bullying happens more within each grade rather than from older grades like the movie "Dazed and Confused" during hazing scenes with the new seniors and new freshmen.    

    "The majority of social media bullying like on Facebook and Twitter happens when kids go home rather than during school hours," explained Sommerfeld. "Teachers do a pretty good job at regulating it in class."    

    Crookston High School has a student group called "True Players" who perform skits for students about bullying and depression. The skits show kids how much bullying can hurt and how it affects each person differently. Sommerfeld, himself, has been actively involved in "True Players" and anti-bullying since the ninth grade.    

    "There are a lot of places you can go for help if you are bullied," said Sommerfeld. "Sometimes you need to ignore the bully and be a better person. Other times, it can get out of hand and you would need to talk to the counselor, principal or a parent."