County creates plan to address bullying

By Joel Stottrup

County Reporter

Many schools have started anti-bullying programs, and now Mille Lacs County is starting one from the criminal justice perspective.

That’s how Mille Lacs County Attorney Jan Jude explains the Golden Rule Project that she and two of her assistant county attorneys – Shauna Ryan and Heather Griesert – have formed.

Jude reviewed the Golden Rule Project for the Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners at their Aug. 20 board meeting.

The core of the Golden Rule Project are six classes on anti-bullying for youth who are referred to the classes, set for Sept. 27 and Nov. 8 this year, and Jan. 3, Feb. 7, March 21 and May 16 next year. All the classes begin at 3:30 p.m. and take place in Conference Room D of the county’s historic courthouse in Milaca. The classes are designed to have the a parent or parents of the juvenile attend alongside.

County Commissioner Genny Reynolds asked about the time that the County Attorney’s Office is spending on the program, and Jude said it isn’t possible to predict the total number of hours, beyond the six hours total for the classes. Jude said her office has already completed the hard part of the work, which was developing the project. She also said she is hoping the $15 class fee will cover the costs of making copies and other paperwork. There will be a little prep time and some staff time tracking the work in the project as well, Jude said.

The referrals for who would attend could come from a judge, the County Attorney’s Office or a school, Jude said. If a judge makes the referral, the class would be a condition of probation, while the county attorney could order attendance as a diversion from having  the youth prosecuted in court. A school could refer a student to attend in place of a school suspension.

The Golden Rule Project is not a replacement for the anti-bullying programs in schools, Jude said, but is meant to complement those programs.

Jude listed three reasons why the Golden Rule Project is worthwhile:

–The project would create more awareness of the problem of bullying.

–It can bring earlier intervention in a bullying situation.

–It can  treat the problem of school truancy.

“A lot of kids get picked on and picked on and picked on and decide not to go to school,” she said. “We will partner with schools to get ahead of and avoid situations.”

Elaborating on intervention, Jude said her office has had many cases of juveniles being charged with an offense as a result of them lashing out at a bully. Sometimes the parent comes in upset about the charge because their child had been picked on for as much as six months before striking out at someone, Jude said.

Charges in these cases include disorderly conduct, assault and harassment, according to Jude.

Today’s world of social media offers more opportunities for cyberbullying, Jude added, where a perpetrator might find it easier to say bad things about someone when they don’t have to do it to their face, and some kids can be “real mean,” she said.

Jude said that bullying is a serious issue, explaining that statistics show that involvement in bullying behavior increases the likelihood that a juvenile will have a criminal record by the time they reach their early 20s. She also said that kids who engage in bullying behavior more frequently report carrying weapons to school.

“I find this information alarming and our program is intended to address the safety concerns connected to bullying early on,” she said.

The Golden Rule Project, the namesake on the golden rule of treating others as you would want to be treated, is also another tool to deal with cases that may not have risen to the level of criminal charges, Jude said.

“Our hope is that more education and information about alternative ways to deal with this problem will help bullies, victims and parents identify and utilize the help they need before safety is compromised and the criminal process is involved,” Jude said in a statement.

Jude said that she and assistant attorneys began developing the Golden Rule Project about a year ago and timed it to start as the new school year is beginning. After a year from now, her office will review how it has gone and could decide whether to continue it. Jude also said that more classes could be scheduled than the six lined up so far.