At the May first Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board meeting, members unanimously voted to pass an updated version of the district’s harassment and violence policy. While the changes made are essentially simple adjustments, the talk of school harassment and violence policies opened the discussion to talk of the soon-to-be implemented anti-bullying law and the district’s responsibility to intervene in student harassment and bullying.
Board member Steve Schild spoke about what he felt was the "complexity" of harassment and bullying policies, questioning the potential liability in a school district’s response to something that occurs electronically through text messages or social media.
“This is the part that I thought was funny, ‘this specifically includes harassment that arises as a direct result of the student’s school enrollment, including harassment which may occur through electronic/text messaging or on social media,’” Schild said. “I don’t know if that means one student says something rotten to or about another student. I don’t know, it strikes me there as some language that would be open to interpretation, and it seems that the school system would have potential liability over something that it has no control over.”
In an interview prior to the May 1 School Board meeting, WAPS superintendent Scott Hannon said that while the district does deal with online harassment, it is hard to handle when it happens outside of school. “It’s kind of like, how much can you deal with?”
At the board meeting, Hannon reiterated his dilemma with intervening or not.
“If a kid has a fight with another kid and it's on school grounds, we deal with it. If they have it across the street, not on school grounds, I’ve always asked the question, ‘should we deal with it?’ To me, we have an obligation, and if we see it happening, we’re going to deal with it [because those are] our students, but how far do you go? How far do you reach out into the community?”
For those interested, Winona Middle School (WMS) will be offering a social media and internet safety presentation on Friday, May 16, at 6 p.m. in the WMS auditorium. A Winona Police Department representative will be on hand with WMS staff to answer questions from the community and parents on topics of discussion including bullying, sexting and what social media kids frequently use.