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Detroit Lakes schools step up anti-bully efforts

When Cooperstown, N.D., experienced the suicide of a teenager due to bullying, it touched communities and schools in the surrounding states. Some schools took a look at their own bullying and harassment policies, trying to prevent a similar occurrence.

Detroit Lakes was no different.

And while Principal Steve Morben knows he can't prevent bullying 100 percent, he and his staff are ready and willing to educate students and parents on what the school is doing, and what parents and teens can do.

It's after the visible things happen, like the Cassidy Andel suicide, that everyone wonders, "why don't the schools do anything," Morben said. But the schools always have had a policy in place.

Now the district is holding two public meetings for people to hear about what the school is doing. First, teacher Kent Mollberg is holding an Internet "Cyber Safety 101" seminar on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Middle School auditorium.

Then on Jan. 13, tentatively, Morben, other school principals, counselors and law enforcement will discuss what the school has in place for bullying and harassment policies.

Each district is required to have these policies in place, and Detroit Lakes' says that "any (bullying) brought to our attention will be investigated," Morben said.

The goal is also to keep the victim anonymous while taking care of those who are bullying. One difficult aspect of that though, Counselor Doreen Richter said, is when in the morning the kid may be the victim and in the afternoon, the bully moves on to someone else.

For his part, Mollberg said he will speak mainly on cyber bullying through social networks and cell phones, and simply the safety of the networks and "what's safe and not safe to put on Facebook."

Many times students post pictures of themselves and other friends on the Internet, not thinking ahead to either predators that could be looking or a few years down the road, when it comes time to apply for a job and potential employers are looking at those pictures.

"Kids are not always able to process the foolishness of decisions," he said.

And the school can have all the policies in place, but if bullying isn't being reported, it's hard to enforce the policies.

"Students hesitate to come forward because..." Richter said.

"Of retaliation," Morben finished.

"We think of bullying as the big kid taking lunch money, but it's so much more than that," he added.

Safety is important, and it's about what can be done as a school.

Counselor Karin Fritz-Staley recently attended a seminar on bullying and what schools can do about it, and Morben said they plan to incorporate some of that information into their January presentation as well.

Part of that will include surveying students to see how prevalent bullying is in Detroit Lakes, "or is it not as bad as we think?" she said. School staff needs to know what it is and how to help, she added.

"It needs to be district wide and consistent," Counselor Janell Girodat said. "Consistency and communication are going to take care of a lot of issues."

Once data is collected and presented to the public in January, Morben said he'd like to continue the public meetings on more relevant topics, such as school shootings.