Dayton, Swanson -- and Lady Gaga -- chart path for lawmakers.
During her recent Thanksgiving Day TV special, filmed at her childhood school in New York, Lady Gaga told tales of her days as a student. While playing the piano and introducing a song, she talked about good times at her alma mater -- but also about being the victim of harassment for being different.
That theme is woven throughout several of the flamboyant singer's lyrics -- be proud of who you are and don't tolerate teasing, bullying or harassment. And because thousands of kids have been there, it's a message that clearly resonates with her school-age fans.
It's also an issue that demands support and action from adults. To that end, Minnesota's anti-bullying campaign recently received a welcome shot in the arm from two top state officials.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson proposed legislation that would strengthen anti-bullying laws and require more direct action from school staff.
Under the proposed law, educators would have to act within 24 hours of receiving a report of bullying and develop procedures to investigate, document and report incidents. School boards would have to outline ways to protect students from bullying and to discipline those who bully others or make a false report.
In addition, districts would have to offer education about the issue to students and staff. Swanson's proposal was modeled after one that drew bipartisan support this year in North Dakota.
Less than a week after Swanson announced her push, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would appoint a task force to explore the best methods to handle bullying.
The 15-member panel will include his commissioners of education, human rights and public safety; equal numbers of legislators from both parties; and others with expertise in medicine, mental health law or education. The group is to report back by Aug. 1, 2012.
Minnesota's only anti-bullying law was passed in 2006 and amended in 2008 to include cyber bullying. But the 37-word law is one of the shortest and weakest in the nation.
A more comprehensive anti-bully bill received widespread bipartisan support in 2009, as well as backing from this page. Unfortunately, it was ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
This state can and should do better, and here's why: 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 past month.
Thirteen percent reported that they were bullied at least once a week. Studies have shown that bullied children are prone to depression and absenteeism, and the bullies are more likely to get involved with drugs and have academic problems.
As Swanson pointed out, new laws can't stop all bullying and harassment. But they do set a tone and give victims a place to turn.
With her over-the-top hair and costumes -- and her tremendous talent -- Lady Gaga is showing kids that it's OK to be different.
And she's wisely using her platform to say that no one should be assaulted, bullied or teased because of those differences.
State lawmakers should take a cue from the singer and join Swanson and Dayton in their efforts to keep kids physically and psychologically safe in school.
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