When it comes to school antibullying and harassment laws, Minnesota is a national laggard. Lawmakers have a new opportunity this year to bring the state up to speed.
Minnesota's paltry 37-word statute -- the shortest anti-bullying law in the nation -- was adopted by the Legislature in 2006 and amended in 2008 to include cyberbullying. It requires school boards to adopt anti-bullying policies that address intimidation and bullying in all forms.
But the state's limited law doesn't outline the conditions under which a school has authority over student conduct, and it prohibits bullying without actually defining it.
That's not good enough, given the devastating impact that bullying and intimidation have on too many kids. A stronger law is in order to better protect Minnesota kids.
Such a law was recently introduced by state Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center. The pair teamed up with other legislators from both parties to bring welcome bipartisan backing to this important issue.
Their smart bill defines bullying as in-person or online conduct on school property, on school buses or any school-sanctioned activity that is "so severe, pervasive or objectively offensive that it substantially interferes with the student's educational opportunities'' or places the student in "actual and reasonable'' fear of harm, or substantially disrupts school operations.
Under the proposed law, school districts would be required to create policies for reporting and documenting incidents. School staff would have to respond to bullying reports within 24 hours and develop procedures to investigate and discipline the students involved.
Attorney General Lori Swanson recommended a similar measure last year, and Gov. Mark Dayton convened a group to study the issue. The proposed bill is modeled after antibullying statutes from more politically conservative states.
Another bipartisan group of legislators and this Editorial Board supported a more comprehensive antibullying bill during the 2009 session. But that bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Since that time it's become even clearer that stronger legislation is needed. A 2010 survey of Minnesota sixth-, ninth- and 12th-graders said that 57 percent of them had been a victim of bullying or had bullied another student within the previous month.
According to national research, bullied children are more likely to skip school and become depressed; those who bully and harass others are more likely to get involved with drugs and have academic problems.
Last December, the U.S. Department Education reported that of the 46 states with bullying laws, Minnesota got the lowest marks.
The problem will not go away on its own. During the past few years, the Anoka-Hennepin School District has been under scrutiny following several student suicides and controversy over its policies.
In response, the district is providing more training and working on revising its policies. Superintendent Dennis Carlson supports the proposed state law because it would reinforce the district's efforts.
Carlson and other Minnesota school superintendents deserve the Legislature's support. And so do our kids.
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