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Bettendorf schools investigating allegations of bullying, racism and exclusion

Bettendorf schools investigating allegations of bullying, racism and exclusion

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The Bettendorf Community School District is investigating allegations of students being bullied, experiencing racism or being excluded by fellow students and staff.

Michelle Morse, superintendent, said the district became aware of the allegations about two weeks ago. Many of the allegations have surfaced on social media, but Morse said she and other members of the administration have since been communicating with some of the complainants.

When an allegation has included enough information for it to do so, the district has opened an investigation, Morse said. If an accusation can be substantiated, the district will take action.

The district takes such complaints seriously, Morse said.

“I want all students to feel safe and included when they come to school,” Morse said.

Concerns raised also included that when complaints were made to the district, they were not properly addressed, but Morse said it was important to note that if disciplinary action was taken, the district cannot always share those results because of privacy laws.

In other cases, the district needs more information before an investigation can be opened, Morse said. A complaint form will be made available on the district website, and the Bettendorf school’s human resources department is also available by telephone or email.

The district, as of Wednesday, had not asked for assistance from any outside agencies in carrying out the investigations, Morse said.

Hope Mohr, a Bettendorf student who attends Edison Academy, addressed the issue during the public comment period of Tuesday night’s Bettendorf school board meeting. That meeting can be viewed on the district's YouTube page.

Among the issues she’d seen as a student, she said, included being bullied, witnessing others being bullied and witnessing racism and homophobia from substitutes, teachers and students.

Two weeks ago, she posted about her experiences online and others began doing the same, Mohr told the board. Within 48 hours 160 people had shared similar experiences.

She has since started a Facebook group for people to share their accounts, she said. The group now has hundreds of accounts, some of them going back a decade.

She said she polled the people who had joined the group about what should be done, and their input included wanting to see annual mental-health training for district staff and investigations into specific employees who should be forced to resign if allegations are proven.

“Changes need to be made,” she told the board.

Wednesday, Adam Holland, board president, said the board wants to make sure the staff is doing all it can to help students and employees have a safe and welcoming environment when they are at school.

He also said the district would take allegations it received seriously.

The district has already been taking steps to help students feel welcome and incorporated into the school community, Morse said.

Initiatives focusing on helping foster an inclusive and positive school climate and culture were being developed last year, but that process was delayed by the coronavirus outbreak, she said.

Another initiative was announced at the school board meeting — a mentoring program designed to help students feel connected to each other.

The district is still committed to developing that positive environment and still has work to do, Morse said.

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