About 40 Mississippi Horizons students were suspended Friday after writing comments viewed as harassment about a student in a pass-around journal.
Brainerd School Superintendent Jerry Walseth said today he believes this is the first time a mass number of students was involved in a suspension because of harassment.
"It was a new behavior for us," Walseth said. "Obviously harassment in any form is not OK and it was a zero tolerance and our administration responded very appropriately to the information."
Walseth said he did not see the journal but talked to Mississippi Horizons Principal Carol Munns about its contents and what he considered offensive language against one student. Those suspended were mostly freshman and primarily male.
"Kids think it's more of a joke and not as serious as it can be," Munns said.
The journal was passed around with the goal of giving the written comments to the targeted student, Munns said. Some comments were sexual in nature. Others were generally negative.
"We felt we had to have a consequence for the whole group," Munns said. "It's a learning experience here for these kids."
Munns said the suspended students may not have intended to be extremely malicious but the potential is there in terms of emotional harm to the targeted student. Munns said no student should have to go through that turmoil. "Kids need to learn this cannot be tolerated -- that we will not tolerate this way to interact with their peers."
Mary Sandelin's 14-year-old son was one of those suspended Friday.
"To me that's extreme," Sandelin said. She said her son answered a question in the journal as to whether he would date a particular girl. Sandelin's son told her he was called to a meeting with the principal who had the journal in hand.
Sandelin said she did not think her son should be home because of his opinion.
"That's not sexual harassment," Sandelin said Friday in regard to the journal entry. "That's his opinion. ... My son did not physically speak to or touch this girl."
Suspended students received a sexual harassment education packet that included a worksheet.
"I thought you have really gone overboard," she said of the school district. "This is one step beyond stupid. I find their behavior more offensive than the children's."
Munns said she was disappointed at the student actions and was empathetic toward the student targeted by the remarks.
She said: "There needs to be a stand taken that this is not going to be tolerated."
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