ST. PETER — It wasn't on the agenda, but six days after a brawl at the St. Peter Middle School sent one student to the hospital, parents were insistent that the St. Peter School Board hear their concerns.
"I think we're owed that as parents," Jess Sourbeck told the board, citing the need for information on what steps the district is taking to address bullying in schools and progress reports on the measurable results of those steps.
About eight community members were on hand Tuesday night to discuss the brawl in a hallway of the school involving Somali girls and a white girl and white boy. The fight, which received widespread attention because of video recorded by other students, ended when one of the Somali girls was pushed into a glass display case, which shattered and sent her to the hospital with a gash that required stitches.
The district's response to the incident matters not only to parents of middle school kids, Sourbeck said, but also to parents like her of elementary school students who would eventually be enrolled there.
"Even if I don't have a child in this school, I'm seriously considering not sending them there," she said.
Board Chairman Mark Karlsrud initially said the Wednesday incident was not a part of the meeting's agenda and would not be added. Instead, Karlsrud invited attendees to wait until the end of the meeting for informal discussions with board members.
"I'm sure everyone would love to stay and talk to you," he said.
Teri Hopkins, of St. Peter, pointed to the sixth and final item on the agenda — "Other" — and said she planned to broach the topic there.
Karlsrud and other board members relented, adjusting the agenda to allow the discussion.
"I think it's clear a bunch of people here want to talk to the board," Board member Ben Leonard said.
And while the community members were insistent on being heard, the discussion was a civil one that was in marked contrast to dozens of antagonistic Facebook comments in reaction to a Free Press story on the brawl.
None of the people who spoke at the meeting said they were connected to the students involved in the fracas, but they also said issues with bullying at the school are not new. A mother of foster children, Hopkins said her kids were sometimes to blame.
"It's definitely an old problem that's continuing," she said, blaming that continuation in part on delayed or absent notification by school officials to parents of children who are doing the bullying.
Hopkins said her daughter wasn't involved in the Jan. 16 incident but has been guilty of misbehavior in the past.
"She made a kid cry. That's not acceptable as a parent. I would never allow that," she said. "... I want my kids to be punished. I want them to get detention, get suspended. But I'm not even being told."
Supt. Paul Peterson said data privacy laws prevented him from providing details on the recent fight. He pledged, however, that school officials would be communicating with parents about efforts to more effectively implement the district's anti-bullying policy, including measurable data on the results.
With St. Peter becoming more culturally diverse, he asked parents to get involved with local efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding and unity. And he said it was crucial that parents insist the district be diligent in making progress on those same goals.
"What's really important is you hold us accountable for doing that," Peterson said.
A handful of Somali-Americans were at the meeting, including Fardousa Jama of Mankato who said she was there in support of a relative who has children in the St. Peter Middle School. Jama said building bridges in a dispute requires both sides to concede that their children aren't always angelic, and she talked of some of the efforts taken by Mankato East High School to communicate on a variety of issues with immigrant families.
Mohamed Abdulkadir, a founder of the St. Peter Islamic Center, said Somali-American parents want to be more connected to school officials.
"They want to communicate with you guys, but what always stops them is the language ...," he said. "We want to engage more."
Abdulkadir said bullying and fighting are never going to be completely eliminated, but he applauded the district for its commitment to limiting conflict.
"You're doing a very good job," he said.