The Sun Prairie Area School District intends to appoint a 45-member anti-bullying task force, according to discussion and a resolution approved Monday, July 15 by the Sun Prairie School Board.
The Sun Prairie Area School District Task Force on Student Behavior and Bullying will include board members Dave Hoekstra and Tom Weber; three members of the district’s administrative team; two members of the district’s student services staff; four school-based administrators; six teachers; both of the district’s school liaison officers; 12 parents or guardians; six community members; student school board representatives Emily Flood and Quinn Williams; two more students and three other support staff, according to a timeline approved by the board.
The task force intends to begin with an organizational meeting on Aug. 19 and continue on Mondays Sept. 16, Oct. 21, Nov. 4, Nov. 18, Dec. 9, Jan. 6 and conclude Feb. 10 with a school board workshop.
Meetings will take place from 6-8:30 p.m. in the library at Sun Prairie High School, 888 Grove St., and use an external facilitator.
Only four of the meetings will allow input from the public, however, according to the timeline approved by the board. Board Vice President Weber, who will co-chair the meetings with SPASD Director of Student Services Jennifer Apodaca, explained the public input at every meeting would make the length of the meetings greater with the size of the task force.
The charge of the taskforce is to accomplish the following objectives:
• Understand current data and factors contributing to that data in order to identify key issues in student behavior and bullying. That includes identifying, unpacking, and evaluating concerns and trends regarding student behavior and bullying within the schools using multiple measures. The task force will also examine the impact of race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and trauma in addition to the impact of mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.
• Examine the current prevention, response, reporting, monitoring, and communication practices in student behavior and bullying. This includes the purpose of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and their impact on student behavior and bullying.
Task force members will review the current district behavior response practices, including reporting options, investigation protocols, and guidelines for consequences. This will include an understanding of the Sun Prairie Area School District Student and Family Handbook Behavioral Responses for School Buildings and Buses as well as understanding the capacity of the Sun Prairie Area School District to respond and address incidents.
Task force members will also work to identify supportive resources currently in use within the district and the community, current laws and regulations in addition to legal protections for students with disabilities as they relates to discipline and behavior response.
• Advise the School Board and district administration regarding improvements that allow us to achieve the goals associated with the district’s Vision and Mission and meet the expectations of the Board’s governance policy Operating Expectation 10. This will include summarizing current practices and procedures regarding student behavior and bullying, areas of need based on the analysis of current practices and formulating recommendations for improvement.
• Provide avenues for community partnerships going forward, which includes identifying potential roles of stakeholders to carry out proposed improvements. The task force will also explore additional opportunities for community involvement and partnership focused on prevention efforts.
“I believe this is what the community has been asking for,” remarked Sun Prairie School Board member Marilyn Ruffin.
Some audience members on hand for the July 15 meeting at the SPASD office questioned the composition of the group, while others had more specific questions.
“How will you protect our children?” asked Jackie Reindl, a longtime Sun Prairie resident and a grandmother of children in the district.
Another parent, the daughter of a longtime district employee, who has a master’s degree in social work said she was intimidated when coming into the schools.
Board member Caren Diedrich said she would not support the resolution and timeline because of the size of the group. She said bullying it not just a local issue, or a taxpayer issue – it’s happening across the state and county. She also admitted that she thought about trying to convince Weber that bringing in other schools and the Dane County Consortium members to add to the task force might improve it.
Diedrich also said the information about the district’s bullying and school behavior policies needs to be put together in one place because the way the policy is now, it refers to other district policies. She said the task force also needs to define disruptive behavior that is not bullying.
But size mattered to Diedrich. “I have an awful big problem with a group of 40,” Diedrich said, adding that she saw the issue as mostly a problem at the secondary level.
“I think your committee is way too big and there’s no attorney in there,” Diedrich added. An attorney is needed to stop the task force from straying into areas not allowed by law, she added.
While she said she had no problem with public meetings, Diedrich said she has a problem with a task force of 40 people: “It just won’t work.”
Board President Steve Schroeder said “I think there’s a precedent for having task forces of 40 to 45 people.”Schroeder said he takes exception to saying that bullying just happens with older kids. Schroeder said his daughter “did not have a good year.”
“If the school district doesn’t take the lead on this,” Schroeder asked, “who will?”
Kris Ganske, who organized the first group of students, former students and parents to come to the board to point out there was a problem with bullying in the schools, asked for Schroeder and Superintendent Brad Saron to send a letter to parents explaining the progress to date and asking for prospective task force members.
Schroeder and Saron said the district will be soliciting applications through its website for task force members, more than likely beginning on Friday, July 19.
Board members voted to approve the resolution establishing the task force charge and timeline, with Diedrich voting no. But she also said she would support the board’s action regardless of how the vote turned out.