The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 17, 2014

Our View: Strengthen bullying law with common sense

Why it matters: Yes, the state's weak bullying law needs to be strengthened but there's no need to nitpick the details nor make it expensive

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Bullying is wrong — period. It is not a “rite of passage” as some would like to characterize it. It generally is imposed on those who are weak or vulnerable. It does not make you tougher; it makes you more scared and can potentially turn you into a bully.

You would think common sense would prevail so that instances of bullying would not ever be tolerated no matter where but especially in our schools. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Part of the problem is the lack of training on how to recognize and then confront bullies. And then there are the taunts and gibes hidden in cyberspace such as on Facebook or texts.

Minnesota recognizes there is a weakness in an all-out effort to confront bullying. The first problem is in state policies. An MPR analysis found that although the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) has a policy template for school districts to use, it is voluntary and districts are inconsistent in their application.

A bill designed to strengthen Minnesota’s anti-bullying law— presently just 37 words long and arguably the weakest in the nation — is expected to be resurrected in the Legislature this year.

While the House passed a bill last session, the Senate didn’t vote on it which surprised some who thought the bill was on a fast track. After all, it has a DFL-sponsored bill and Democrats control both houses.

But as with many things the argument is in the details.

For instance, there is the definition of bullying. Harassment is included as a definition but the MSBA argues harassment can be one incident and bullying by definition is multiple incidents. Then there is the requirement that all school volunteers be trained the first year and every third year after that, which the MSBA says would be difficult to track. Other details include posting of bullying incidents and the length of time it should take to investigate.

And then there’s the plea from some districts who argue they need extra staff to handle investigations, pay for anti-bullying programs and set aside time to train.

Many people — including Minnesota State University professor Walter Roberts who was the co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying — want schools to better investigate all cases of bullying and train teachers to spot and prevent bullying. That’s it. And for a beginning that should be enough.

Do we really need extra bullying staff members to police this? This is something ALL staff members should be aware of and the administrators should ensure it is followed. Standards should be applied equally and enforced equally. If there are districts that are not following these standards, then sanctions should be considered.

A huge infusion of funding went to school districts last year. Surely there’s enough there to cover something that should have already been in place.

And do we really need to count instances of bullying? Is there an acceptable level of bullying?

As far as time for training, we suggest using MEA days in October which are now just an excuse for another day off.

Let’s not let nitpicking divert us from implementing something where common sense should dictate. Bullying is wrong. Teach people how to spot it and prevent it — now.

Other View on this topic:

“So much for Republicans’ vows to refashion themselves as a more inclusive and ‘caring’ party in the aftermath of their last election’s shellacking. How does killing a bullying bill by threatening a 10-hour filibuster in the closing hours of the legislative session square with that?

I assured Minority Leader David Hann, (R-Eden Prairie), who delivered the threat to me personally, that we will pass every single word of this bill into law as soon as we return to the second half of this biennial session next February. It is unconscionable to force Minnesota students to endure another year without the safety and support in their own schools that is their right.”

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chief author of Minnesota bullying bill that failed in the Senate last year as quoted in MinnPost.