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Legislature needs to toughen state’s school bullying law

The time has come for the Minnesota Legislature to address the issue of school bullying. For far too long, Minnesota’s anti-bulling law has been just a piece of “feel good” legislation. In fact, the group “Bully Police-USA,” a national anti-bulling advocacy organization, has ranked the current Minnesota law 49th in the nation. That ranking is the lowest, as one state, Montana, has no law at all.

Last session, legislation that had bi-partisan support did not even get a committee hearing. This year the “Safe and Supportive Schools” legislation is moving along in both chambers. The House bill number is 826 and the Senate companion bill is 783.

Many folks have stated that “bullying has always been with us” and that it “just makes kids deal with the real world.” Yes, bullying has always a part of growing up, but when I was in school, once a child got home, or off the school bus; home was refuge from the bullying. With the social media, texting, cell phone photos and e-mail, children no longer have that refuge as cyber bullying can go on 24/7. It is a different world for children today.

Children with disabilities are often targets of bullying, being called names, but children who are shy and withdrawn or socially disadvantaged also are subject to taunts. Some schools are doing a good job addressing the issue. However, most do not. A one-time school assembly or student/faculty presentation is not enough. The new law, patterned after the legislation passed in North Dakota in 2011, would identify a school district official responsible for enforcement, require a copy of school policy to be submitted and an enforcement mechanism; most importantly the adoption of a comprehensive school curriculum for grades K-12 to address aspects of bullying. There would be differentiation between bullying and harassment, as they are not the same, and recommendations for dealing with both those who are bullied and those who bully.

HF 826 and SF 783 are moving through both the Education Policy and Education Finance committees of the House and Senate. Rep. Deb Kiel (R-1B) and Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-1) sit on those respective committees. Please contact them with your stories and input regarding this issue.

It is time for the state to acknowledge and address this issue.

John W. Johnson

East Grand Forks

John W. Johnson is an advocate and trainer with Options Center for Independent Living, East Grand Forks.