RED WING -- A lack of discipline at Burnside Elementary School has parents, staff, administration and Red Wing School Board members frustrated and concerned.

During the Feb. 3 board meeting, multiple parents used the public comment time to highlight their concerns about student and staff safety at Burnside.

Harassment, abuse frightens parents and staff

Jennifer Ziemer's children attend Red Wing schools. She believes the district's discipline policies are broken. Ziemer said there are other parents who feel abandoned by the school district, saying her children have been "body slammed," suffered a broken bone, and experienced death threats by fellow students.

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Ziemer also said that teachers are being threatened, hit and sworn at. She worries that Red Wing will not be able to retain quality teachers because of these problems.

Ashley Lund has a child in the district and also was a substitute teacher at Burnside three times last year. Lund called those three subbing instances as the "worst" in her career spanning a decade. Lund said she was shocked by the lack of assistance teachers had in the building, going so far to say that she'd walk out if she didn't have help in her room.

Rose Gerdes has volunteered weekly at Burnside for four years and said she has a "deep concern" for the lack of attention paid to student behavior. Gerdes said the administration and School Board need to revise policies for bullying and discipline now, not later.

Need for swift action

Superintendent Karsten Anderson presented a series of plans to deal with these progressive problems in the short term and long term:

  • Principal Jennifer Bordonaro will work with a consultant to if/how they can support her with administrative work;
  • There will be a review of system supports throughout February;
  • Special education evaluations will be done for a handful of students;
  • There also will be managing of general education students who have significant behavior issues;
  • A "Recovery Room" to help students will be staffed every day, with the goal of it opening Feb. 18;
  • Three emergency substitute teachers will be hired to report each day in case there is a need.

After the meeting, Anderson said this is an "urgent issue" and it needs to be taken care of now.

Discipline and behavior at the elementary level is a national issue, Anderson said. The district has sought best practices in St. Cloud and will visit Rochester as well to learn from those schools, too.

As far as how this implementation will affect the rest of the district, Anderson said it's possible approach could move to other buildings.

“We’re open to anything at any school," Anderson said. "Obviously, we can’t do everything, but this is important enough for us to allocate resources to make a difference. Every school has a different lineup of preventative and reactive personnel and programs, but we want to keep looking at them.”

Get it done

The message from all School Board members was clear: act now, not later.

Treasurer Mike Christensen was the only board member not present at Monday's meeting, but almost every board member spoke their piece about the Burnside issues.

Board member Holly Tauer, a special education coach with St. Paul schools, said the victims need to be addressed just as much as the ones bullying do.

“I want something more immediate for kids who feel that they are being bullied on a daily basis or who have been bullied or parents who feel like their child has been mistreated," Tauer said. "That has to have a clear action.”

Tauer asked what clear steps are in place now to address those problems?

Anderson said staff inform parents as soon as possible and will figure out the steps together to resolve the issue now and prevent it in the future. Anderson continued by saying when there is a behavior -- Anderson used an example of one student tackling another -- they must examine how that affects everyone around them. Those instances need to be studied and discussed.

Vice Chair Arlen Diercks was blunt and emotional in his response: “I’ve heard from many people and one of the biggest frustrations I have was when I say, ‘I’m aware of it but there’s nothing much I can do.’ That’s hard. But what I can do is assure you that I will vote for whatever it takes to get this under control. That’s what I’m committed to."

Diercks ended his speech with a direct message to Anderson: "Karsten, I can’t speak for the rest of the board, but I think it’s been a consensus of the board that whatever you have to do to get it under control, get it done.”