Department of Education faulted scope of state's statute. A draft bill would strengthen requirements.
A federal report released Tuesday confirms what some Minnesota school and state leaders have been saying lately: Minnesota's anti-bullying law needs work.
Of the 46 states with bullying laws, Minnesota got the lowest marks for its lack of scope and definitions, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which analyzed each state's anti-bullying legislation.
While other groups have ranked states' bullying laws, this is the first time the federal agency has done so, spurred by the conversations at a first-time federal bullying prevention summit held in August 2010.
It also follows an increasing focus on school bullying nationwide and across Minnesota in the wake of school violence and high-profile youth suicides.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who announced proposed legislation last month to strengthen the state's law, said she wasn't surprised that the state was singled out.
"As a state, we should be a national leader," she said Tuesday. "Legislation doesn't stop all bullying, but we need to set a strong tone and culture in Minnesota that bullying isn't tolerated."
The 37-word law -- the shortest anti-bullying law in the nation -- was passed by the Legislature in 2006 and amended in 2008 to include cyberbullying. It requires school boards to adopt an anti- bullying policy that addresses intimidation and bullying in all forms.
But Minnesota is one of two states that doesn't address the scope of where legislation applies and under what conditions a school has authority over student conduct, such as at school-sponsored events, the report said. Also, Minnesota joins Wisconsin and Arizona in prohibiting bullying without defining it.
Swanson and legislators pushing the proposed bill want to change that.
Draft defines bullying
In the draft legislation, the definition of bullying would be detailed: conduct that interferes with a student's educational opportunities, disrupts orderly operation of the school, or places the student in "actual and reasonable" fear of harm or of damage to property.
It would also require school districts to create policies for reporting and documenting incidents, plans to protect students who are bullied and those who report it, and, finally, require a response to bullying reports within 24 hours.
The measure is modeled after a North Dakota law that drew bipartisan support this year, one of eight bills signed into law nationwide in 2011, the report said, signaling the increased attention bullying is receiving. In 2010, 21 bills were enacted.
"It's no secret Minnesota has one of the weakest bullying laws in the country," Minnesota Department of Education spokeswoman Charlene Briner said Tuesday. "We know we need to do better."
Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton announced that a task force will also re-examine the law and look at national best methods in confronting bullying. Briner said members will be named and begin meeting by next month.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education is beginning its own follow-up to Tuesday's report, planning to visit schools starting in early 2012 to analyze the implementation of laws at the school district and school level, a spokeswoman said.
That report is expected to be released in winter 2012.
Staff writer Maria Baca contributed to this report. Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141