MANKATO — For two decades, Minnesota State University Professor Walter Roberts has been researching school bullying and advocating for policies to help children feel safe in school.
“Twenty years ago, when I was out doing this, not many people gave too much attention to it,” he said.
But that changed after high-profile reports of school violence, especially of suicides in the 2011-2012 school year. The public began to pay attention, he said, and Gov. Mark Dayton in February of 2012 convened a 15-person task force, including Roberts, to tackle the problem.
The group toured the state, and saw schools that reduced bullying by bringing schools, parents and others together in a comprehensive effort, Roberts said. But that was not the case everywhere.
“I am still amazed today by some of the comments that I hear from adults about their beliefs that bullying is not a problem,” he said, “that it is something that we should let kids sort out amongst themselves.”
“Some of those attitudes have unfortunately remained in some schools,” he said.
These “rite-of-passage” arguments fail to take into account “some of the very dramatic negative implications that bullying has had for kids,” Roberts said.
The task force’s report was the model for legislation now passing through the Legislature, called the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. He said the bill is “extraordinarily true to the spirit of the recommendations.”
The backbone of the bill is a requirement that each district will have to create a bullying policy that includes the basic criteria set down in law. Those basics include definitions of bullying and a non-exclusive list of characteristics — such as religion, sex, age, disability and sexual orientation — that could be the basis of bullying.
The bill also has a training component for teachers and administrators, and a requirement to report incidences of bullying.