State lawmakers are working on a bipartisan effort to beef up Minnesota’s anti-bullying laws.
The bill would require schools to promptly report and discipline incidents of bullying. The idea for the legislation was first proposed by DFL state Attorney General Lori Swanson, but the legislation is being spearheaded in the House by Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, whose district was shaken by an outbreak of student suicides in recent years – including some youngsters who had been tormented by bullies before their deaths.
“We’re trying to keep this from becoming as polarizing as it has been in the past,” said Abeler, a father of six, who teamed with Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, to introduce the bill. “I’d like to create a good dialog. I think the error we made in the past was in focusing too much on one group (being bullied) or another.)
The legislation, first proposed last year by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, would require educators to report a bullying incident within 24 hours of learning about it, and to develop procedures to document, investigate and discipline the students involved.
It would replace the state’s current anti-bullying statute, which at 37 words is one of the briefest in the nation.
The bill was introduced Thursday and referred to the Committee on Education Reform. Its supporters are working to line up Senate sponsors now.
Hilstrom said the bill is modeled after anti-bullying statutes in conservative states.
“North Dakota, Wyoming, they have a better bullying statue than Minnesota,” she said. If the bill passes, she said, Minnesota “would be setting a tone, that bullying is not going to be tolerated.”
It remains to be seen how schools will react to the idea of new state-dictated bullying policies.
When Swanson first proposed the legislation last November, Anoka-Hennepin schools Superintendent Dennis Carlson said his district already has adopted many of the measures the new law would require. The district, the state's largest, has been under scrutiny -- including a federal civil rights investigation and a lawsuit.
"Bullying is an issue for the community and the state," Carlson said at the time. "Everyone is going to need to be involved if we're going to eliminate bullying. ... Some of the things we're doing right now are going to get us closer than any generation before us to eliminating bullying."
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