Replace current law, recommends Minnesota task force on bullying

Julie Hertzog, Walter Roberts Jr.
Julie Hertzog and Walter Roberts Jr., co-chairs of Gov. Mark Dayton's Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying, review a report Thursday, July 26, 2012. The task force is preparing to submit its report to the governor on Aug. 1.
MPR photo/Tim Post

A state task force formed to look into the problem of bullying is recommending Minnesota scrap its current bullying law and replace it with a stronger anti-bullying statute.

Minnesota's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying voted unanimously Monday to send its final recommendations to Gov. Mark Dayton.

After some last-minute editing, the report will hit Dayton's desk on Wednesday, Aug. 1, the task force's deadline.

The 45-page document, entitled "Safe and Supportive Schools," lays out several recommendations for how the state can combat bullying.

Most prominent is the report's suggestion that the state bolster its law regarding bullying. Minnesota's current law is considered weak, and at 37 words is one of the shortest in the nation. The law only requires that school districts have a written bullying policy, but does not offer guidance on how the policy should address the issue.

Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's Commissioner of Education and one of the task force's 15 members, said it's up to the governor to decide how to use the recommendations.

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"We're anxiously waiting to be able to share this report with the governor so that we can begin our next steps," Cassellius said.

The report's suggestions could make their way into future legislation, or policy changes at the state level.

Task force co-chair Walter Roberts Jr. said short of action by the governor, Minnesota school districts could implement changes based on the report's suggestions.

"There would be absolutely nothing in the world to prevent them from taking the document and enacting some of the pieces of what's relevant for them right now," Roberts said.

Some Minnesota school officials have expressed concern about the work and cost involved in fortifying the state's bullying policy. They fear the recommendations could turn into policy changes that amount to an unfunded mandate from the state.

Here's a look at some of the key suggestions in the task force's report:

• Minnesota lawmakers should pass a strong anti-bullying law that prohibits bullying, harassment and intimidation. The law should set a baseline policy that all Minnesota schools, both public and private, should follow. It should include procedures for how bullying claims are brought forth by students, investigated by the school and reported to the state. The law should also require Minnesota districts to provide training to all employees.

• Schools should provide education about bullying to students and communities. Schools should engage students, parents and community partners in the development of local bullying policies.

• Schools must concentrate on preventing bullying. But students who bully should face punishment. The task force recommends, however, that those students receive "formative" discipline that provides a clear message that bullying is unacceptable. The task force does not recommend using "zero tolerance" bullying policies, citing research that says it does not prevent bullying.

• The task force recommends several state agencies — the Departments of Education, Human Rights, Health and Human Services and Public Safety —create a "School Climate Center" to support schools in their anti-bullying efforts.

— The recommendations also ask the State Department of Education to better track bullying through annual reports and student surveys.

— The task force lawmakers to come up with "permanent and ongoing funding mechanisms" to fund bullying prevention efforts.