Bullied Minn. students speak out on national TV

11:37 AM, Oct 11, 2011   |    comments
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Disclaimer: this story contains strong language.

COON RAPIDS, Minn. -- With eight student suicides in just two years, the Anoka Hennepin School District knew it had to act. But even as it struggles with how to help its kids, last night the problems went prime time.

On a CNN show called "Bullying: It Stops Here," students from the district spoke out, featured on national television as they detailed how they're bullied at school.

"They call me gay, gay boy, faggot," said one Anoka Hennepin student named Damian.

"I look up and I have something dripping down my head," said another Anoka Hennepin student named Kyle, recalling an incident at school. "And someone is peeing on me. (I get bullied or pushed around) almost every day."

Now the district says it's going to change that, vowing at a school board work session that those stories will stop. 

"We're hearing from our staff, anecdotally, 'How can we help? What can we do to help?'" said Jinger Gustafson, Anoka Hennepin Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools. 

So three months ago, Anoka Hennepin, the state's largest school district, formed an Anti Bullying and Anti Harassment Taskforce. They asked sixth, eighth and tenth grade students in a survey how they're harassed and why. One finding: Many kids say bullies target them in the halls between classes, often because of their race, gender or homosexuality.

"The hot spots at the secondary level are the hallways and the passing times," Gustafson said.

That sparked what's called All in the Hall, a new rule where all teachers and staff closely watch for harassment in the hallways. They'll learn to see it, stop it and report it, determined to end bullying, even though some kids say, for them, it's too late.

"I didn't feel safe at school," said an Anoka Hennepin student named Dylan on the CNN program. "So I just left."

The Anoka Hennepin school district remains under a federal investigation by the US Departments of Justice and Education.

And several students and their families have filed a lawsuit against the district, accusing it of failing to protect gay students.

Separate from the district's anti bullying policy is one it calls the "neutrality policy." That means teachers and staff can only discuss sexual orientation if they remain neutral on the subject, a rule that's been widely criticized by gay rights groups.

(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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