The Anoka-Hennepin school district faces a lawsuit over the harassment of GLBT students or those perceived as such. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights are challenging the school board's "neutral" policy on GLBT issues. This policy is so vague that staff isn't sure what to do if they hear of an incident of harassment based on such issues. Therefore, some do nothing, creating a more hostile environment in the schools.
Last year at least six teens committed suicide in this school district. Even though Anoka-Hennepin is the largest school district in the state, six is six too many. The school superintendent denies allegations that bullying led to the suicides.
Of course, bullying is not limited to the GLBT population. Anyone, at any time, can be a victim of bullying. I was bullied as a child due to my disability, and my niece was bullied for the same reason as well. Even after school, I was bullied in college and at work. It never seems to end for people like me, who are discriminated against because we don't fit the mold. We are easy targets for bullies.
After hearing about the six suicides in the school district -- where I attended school, and now live -- I was shocked to learn how little had changed since I was a student. I wondered how bullying could still be tolerated in this day and age. I felt sorrow for the victims, for I knew what they were going through, sorrow that they felt no one was listening, and no one seemed to care.
Bullying is not limited to public schools. My niece is home schooled; she was bullied in an after-school private program. I was bullied in college and at work. I have seen bullying in my travels overseas.
We can't blame schools for bullying, as we know that it can happen anywhere, at any time. A friend in college confessed to me that she participated in bullying behaviors as a child. She thought it was due to her parents' violent arguments and her own experience of abuse. So does bullying start in the home?
Research suggests that violence in the home can indeed lead to violent behavior in school. Since children are perceived as weak in the home, they pick someone perceived as weak in peer environments. On the other hand, since these children are not learning appropriate relational skills at home, where else but at school can they learn them?
Since every child is required to gain an education, it is up to the schools to fill this need. But teachers are busy enough as it is, having to make sure students pass all the required standardized tests. Teaching students these basic relational skills is another burden that teachers are expected to accomplish.
The Bully Police USA, a watchdog organization that advocates against bullying and monitors state laws on bullying, gives Minnesota a C-minus grade, finding that the state law is vague and that there is no accountability or deadline. Each school board is responsible to create policies on bullying. Therefore, one district's policy can be vastly different from another's. Even though the Minnesota School Boards Association has a "model policy" for school districts to use, school districts don't have to implement it.
No matter what opinion one has on GLBT issues, bullying is never acceptable. Some say bullying is just a rite of passage -- that it happens to all of us, and we survived. I may have survived, but my school years were the worst of my life. I was unable to cope with the bullying; I barely graduated, and my grades were poor, which lowered my self-esteem even more. I believed the bullies -- that I was not only defective, but also stupid.
Hearing about my niece being bullied brought these memories to the front of my mind. I so wanted to protect her from this struggle. Life is difficult enough for those of us seen as different. Being bullied in the most vulnerable years of our lives brings a hell that no child should have to endure.
Amy Hetland is a lifelong resident of Anoka County. She is a freelance writer, volunteers for English Language Learners, and advocates for animals. She is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.