SARANAC LAKE - A group of Saranac Lake Central School District administrators and school board members met for two hours Tuesday morning to start going over the district's bullying and harassment policies.
Last month, a middle-school girl who had been bullied all year because of her race had her possessions in her backpack broken and a racial slur written on a Petrova Middle School sidewalk with her deodorant. It took the school more than a week to wash it off.
District officials were widely criticized afterward for not being more responsive to complaints over the course of the year. Superintendent Gerald Goldman and school board President Deb Lennon and Vice President Darren Dalton wrote a letter to the Enterprise, published Tuesday, apologizing, saying the district failed in its responsibility to protect the girl and promising to do better.
Susan Rdzanek, left, who was elected in May, takes her oath of office as a Saranac Lake Central School Board member Tuesday evening. To her right, district clerk Christine Fransen administers the oath. Debra Lennon and Darren Dalton were also unanimously re-elected board president and vice president, respectively, and sworn in after Rdzanek.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
At Tuesday's morning meeting, the group discussed the existing bullying and harassment policies "to make sure they were explicit," Goldman said. "I don't think that review is exhaustive. I think we'll come back to that."
The group also looked at reporting policies and procedures, Goldman said, and discussed the problem from a "social dynamic, in terms of people are sometimes reluctant to disclose bullying."
The group discussed ways to encourage people to come forward when someone else is being harassed or bullied, and ways to promote the "communication that we need in order to get involved in this early, before these things kind of spiral out of control for kids," Goldman said.
The group also discussed better ways to teach acceptance of diversity and differences, and that some members of the community and staff members who belong to minority groups have volunteered to help.
The group will continue to meet over the summer, and Goldman said he would like to reach out to include more district staff.
Two members of the public, Jon Vinograd and Arden Kleffmann, both of Saranac Lake, spoke at Tuesday evening's school board organizational meeting. Vinograd said the district needs a plan with specific goals and target dates to revise its policies to make sure students are protected from bullying.
"Those are strong and commendable words," he said, referring to the letter. "You need to put them into a 'plan of corrective action,'" a term used when he was working at Sunmount.
Vinograd also said it is important the school board be involved in the process as well as administrators.
Kleffman said the district needs to do more to prevent bullying and teach tolerance.
The district already had policies established for reporting bullying, and school board policies and the student code of conduct forbid it. School Board Vice President Darren Dalton, who has two daughters at the middle school, said his daughters have told him of instances where bullying was reported and the system worked, citing one story of Facebook-related harassment.
At the same time, Dalton said, the district needs to do more.
"It's a very disturbing and troubling issue, and it's one that we're addressing," Dalton said.
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or nbrown@