Local officials: Bullying law lacks definitionPublished 9:37am Thursday, December 8, 2011
Local officials agree with federal education experts about bullying: Minnesota’s anti-bullying law is weak.
A Department of Education report about 46 states with laws against bullying gives Minnesota the lowest marks because of lack of scope and definitions in its law.
“We could be probably farther ahead,” said Danielle Borgerson-Nesvold, head of Community Against Bullying in Austin.
Minnesota’s 37-word law is the shortest anti-bullying law in the nation. It was passed in 2006 and amended in 2008 to include cyberbullying. It requires school boards to adopt an anti-bullying policy that addresses intimidation and bullying in all forms.
At issue is Minnesota’s lack of policy. Though the idea was to allow local districts control over bullying policies, there is no state mandate to outline how bullying should be handled in Minnesota schools. In addition, Minnesota is one of two states that doesn’t define bullying boundaries, such as when and where a school is responsible for dealing with bullying or even what bullying means.
Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, agrees with the federal Department of Education that Minnesota needs a more defined law, but he said the department may not have recognized Minnesota’s current bullying efforts as fully as they deserve.
“I was a little surprised that they had us ranked that low,” Murray said. “There’s been a lot of talk of bullying issues at the state capital this past session. We’ll juts have to address it a little bit more.”
While Murray supports further definition in Minnesota’ s bullying law, he said he wants to be cautious of micro-managing the schools. It’s important to protect the students, he said, but an updated law shouldn’t be overwhelming for school districts to implement.
“There really can’t be much wrong with having good, solid bullying policies,” said Neveln Elementary School Principal Dewey Schara. Schara is part of CAB and has spent years dealing with bullying policy.
The federal report comes amid a growing focus on school bullying in the wake of school violence and high-profile youth suicides.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has proposed legislation to strengthen the state law. She said Minnesota needs to set a strong tone that bullying isn’t tolerated.
Austin’s four-page bullying policy is far more specific, breaking down what constitutes bullying and what the consequences are for bullies, whether they be teachers, administrators, staff or students. What’s more, two years ago the Austin Public School board differentiated simple bullying with harassment. While bullying is, in effect, exerting power over someone, harassment is targeting someone because they belong to a specific protected class, such as a race or sexual identity.
Austin educators are looking at proactively combating bullying.
“We’re trying to get to some of those more subtle forms of bullying, like exclusion,” Schara said.
Austin could have a say in legislative bullying policy as well. Borgerson-Nesvold applied to be part of a 15-member Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying, which would advise Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature on anti-bullying policy and could have an affect on future anti-bullying law.
“We have to find something that really works,” Borgerson-Nesvold said.
— Amanda Lillie contributed to this report.