Some Bismarck parents and residents are calling for the school district to reform its policies on bullying and harassment.
More than a dozen parents and residents filed into the Tom Baker Room of the City/County building Monday night for the Bismarck School Board meeting. Some wore plain, black t-shirts reading, "#theirvoices," and spoke about changes to district policies to support victims of bullying and their families, as well as stricter policies for perpetrators of bullying.
The residents attended the meeting in support of local mom Kristin Wentz-Krumwiede, whose 13-year-old daughter has been harassed by another student at Simle Middle School. The harassment started last school year, and has continued despite school administrators attempts to stop it. Along the way, Wentz-Krumwiede said she was not made aware of safeguards that were put in place to protect her daughter.
"We were kept in the dark. We were told that (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prevented us from knowing anything," she said. "This is a system issue, and the issue (is) that parents and students aren't informed of their rights as victims."
Wentz-Krumwiede said she would like the district to create a new victim rights policy to assist families like hers so that they know their rights.
Other parents and residents told board members about their own experiences with their children, family members and students in the district being victims of bullying at school and on social media. They called for better policies and awareness, as well as more of a focus on anti-bullying efforts at the middle school level.
"Bullying can become so extreme that suicides are committed, school shootings are committed," said Stacey Hauff, a former teacher in Napoleon and Fort Yates, adding that the district needs an anti-bullying program that's "beyond posters on a wall."
School Board President Karl Lembke assured Wentz-Krumwiede that the board is "committed to this," and plans to discuss changes to policies or additional ones.
"It's a horrible thing; it really is. We're committed to doing whatever we need to do to to prevent (bullying and harassment)," Lembke said after the meeting. "Even though we have a lot of things in place, I really look forward to us reviewing that ... whatever it's going to take."
Lembke also said "it's worth looking into" a policy protecting students who are victims of harassment and bullying.
Roosevelt Elementary School to stay open
With discussions of stagnant student enrollment and new information, the Bismarck School Board decided Monday night to remove the possibility of closing Roosevelt Elementary School.
A committee of community members and school administrators studied growth at the elementary schools, and earlier this year made recommendations to the board to close two, small, one-section elementary schools that were deemed inefficient: Highland Acres and Roosevelt elementary schools.
The community severely criticized the committee's recommendations, citing the benefits these small schools bring to their neighborhoods. In response, the board this summer decided it would not consider closing Highland Acres, but left open the possibility of closing and repurposing Roosevelt.
The district has been seeing lower-than-expected projected student enrollment this year, which board members said allows them to take more time to delve into the issue of elementary school space.
The board discussed a draft timeline for proposed changes to growing and under-capacity elementary schools. At the board's next meeting, it will continue to discuss recommendations, including boundary changes.
Board approves salary increases
The Bismarck School Board approved salary increases for school staff and administrators.
In 2015-17, the Bismarck Association of School Administrators requested the district study administrative pay. The district hired a company that would also look at salaries for professional and support staff.
“Overall, our salaries were pretty in-line with the market that they looked at," said Lisa Kudelka, human resources manager for the district, however she said there were a few positions they were "behind on."
On Monday, the board approved an overall 1.5 percent increase, on average, for professional and support staff.
In August and September, the board also negotiated with the Bismarck Association of School Administrators for a 2017-19 negotiated agreement, Kudelka said.
The board approved a zero percent pay increase for the 2017-18 school year for the district's two assistant superintendents and the business and operations manager, but a 1.67 percent increase for the 2018-19 year. Also, the board approved a one percent salary increase for each year for the superintendent.