Minnesota Takes On BullyingPosted October 19, 2012 | By csponline
Proposed legislation to curb bullying in school
Adolescents grow quickly and develop emotionally, physically and spiritually. However, the adolescent years can cause tremendous pain and emotional distress for youth whose peers bully them. Many of today’s adolescents experience bullying in and out of the classroom; in the United States, 2.7 million K-12 students have reported that their peers have victimized them face-to-face or online. Bullying drew national attention after it was linked to several adolescent suicides.
Minnesota’s proposed legislation tackles bullies head on; the legislation would strengthen current laws and foster a positive and welcoming educational environment for all students in the state’s school systems.
The Face of a Bully
According to recent statistics, today’s school system includes more than 2 million bullies, and nearly half of all adolescents admit to perpetrating some form of cyberbullying. Although no clear profile of student bullies exists, school officials can pay attention to certain types of behaviors to help identify potential bullies. MakeBeatsNotBeatDowns.org – an anti-bullying organization – has classified the four forms of bullying most prevalent in today’s schools that teachers, administrators and staff members should look out for, including:
- Physical: Physical acts against another person, including hitting, kicking, pinching, scratching and spitting
- Verbal: Vocal acts of aggression toward a person, including name-calling, insulting, teasing or using abusive language, such as racist, sexist or homophobic remarks
- Indirect: Implicit attacks against a person that inflict feelings of isolation and hurt, including spreading rumors and excluding from social groups
- Cyber-bullying: A form of indirect bullying that uses technology, including social media, text messages, phone calls and emails
Statistics show that bullying has caused a national school system crisis. Fifty-six percent of students have witnessed some type of bullying at school, and 71 percent of students identify bullying as a problem at their school. Ongoing bullying also causes one out of every 10 dropouts from secondary institutions. Additionally, suicide rates among 10- to 14-year-olds has increased more than 50 percent in the last three decades, and many experts cite bullying as a primary cause for these troubling statistics. These statistics illustrate the importance of strong and well-defined anti-bullying policies in Minnesota schools.
Bullying in the Minnesota School System
Minnesota’s school districts promote superior educational standards and high levels of academic achievement in schools throughout the state. Although the state ranks higherthan the national average on various standardized assessments, it has fallen short in promoting a bully-free learning environment because it has one of the nation’s weakest (and shortest, at just 37 words) anti-bullying laws. A 2011 U.S. Department of Education study ranked Minnesota’s law last among the 47 states that have an official anti-bullying policy. The U.S. Department of Education’s report specifically noted that Minnesota’s law fails to clearly define bullying. The current law does not set legal requirements or parameters for the schools’ anti-bullying policies. It also provides little to no guidance on how to establish and frame these policies.
Proposed anti-bullying legislation passed both the Minnesota House and Senate in 2009; however, then-Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed it because he felt the new legislation duplicated current Minnesota laws. Child advocacy groups saw this as a severe blow to children’s safety in Minnesota’s schools and a lost opportunity to improve educational environments for all students. Nevertheless, national attention to bullying in and out of classrooms has pushed Minnesota to revisit its anti-bullying laws and make improvements.
Recently, the 15 state lawmakers on the Prevention of School Bullying Task Force established their own set of recommendations that called for replacing the current anti-bullying law with a more comprehensive and thorough state mandate that clearly bans bullying, harassment and intimidation. The task force developed the following guidelines: create a clear definition of bullying; lay out the scope of local and state authority; identify vulnerable groups and protect all children; and set guidelines for prevention, response and reporting. The task force also proposed required training for school personnel, including teachers, administrators and other staff members, to effectively identify and stop bullying in state schools.
The proposed legislation received mixed reviews. Although most people agree Minnesota needs a stronger law to protect all students and improve learning environments throughout the state, many lawmakers and school officials balk at the potential control a state mandate would have over local educational institutions. These individuals want to keep major policy decisions in the hands of local administrators. Others have cited the potential expense of implementing such a robust anti-bullying policy in Minnesota’s school districts and demand governmental funding support if the law passes. Governor Mark Dayton supports stronger anti-bullying legislation, including many of the task force’s recommendations. He also recognizes the need for supplemental funding, citing recent education budget cuts as a culprit of inadequate bullying policies in the state’s schools. Governor Dayton said he will consider ways to finance some of the task force’s recommended measures.
Minnesota is the latest state nationwide to recognize the imperative need to protect its students through a strict and clearly-defined anti-bullying policy. Statistics show a national school system in need of thorough action to foster a positive and welcoming educational environment in and out of the classroom.
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