Between academics, extracurricular and finding their social niché, kids have plenty to keep their minds busy at school. They should not have to add fear and intimidation to that list.
But too many students are forced to spend too many of their school hours being afraid. National estimates indicate that up to a third of all school children are involved in bullying — either as victims, perpetrators or both.
That’s why proposed antibullying legislation merits passage. A bill introduced by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, would amend Minnesota’s current law to include additional victim categories and require training for school staff. The “Minnesota Safe Schools for All’’ bill would also strengthen existing rules by aligning school policies with the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Existing law says that school boards must adopt written policies that prohibit harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence based on sexual, religious or racial factors. The bill proposed by Dibble would add several categories, including sexual orientation, national origin, physical characteristics and even perceived gender identity. The proposed policy includes, for the first time, a specific reference to electronic methods of harassment such as texting and the Internet.
The added language clarifies the existing law and gives more support and direction to school staff. Even with specific types of behavior spelled out in the law, schools should take a no-tolerance approach to any and all forms of bullying, which can become much more than “boys-will-be-boys’’ rough-housing.
Illinois authorities, for example, believe that bullying played a part in the suicides of two children under age 12 earlier this year. When allowed to escalate, certain types of aggressive, antisocial behavior can lead to injury, murder or suicide. A National Education Association study showed that boys identified as bullies in sixth to ninth grades have at least one criminal conviction by age 24 and three or more arrests by age 30.
And while no state rules can completely stop children from being mean to one another, laws can help adults recognize the various forms of intimidation and take steps to prevent it.
According to the national Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, research shows that some programs are very effective in reducing bullying. When entire school staffs pay attention to bullying incidents, provide more supervision for students, establish and communicate clear rules and offer support and protection for students, harassment incidents drop.
So Dibble’s amendment rightly calls for training to help schools create environments where harassment and violent intimidation is not tolerated. That training need not come with additional expense. Authors of the bill believe that school leaders could wrap antiharassment sessions into the usual teacher/staff in-service instruction.
The bottom line is that bullying in school can affect a child’s physical, emotional and psychological safety as well as the ability to learn. This bill would help schools better protect their students.