Bully bill concerns

The Legislature is working on a beefed-up anti-bullying bill for the second year in a row. Minnesota’s old anti-bullying in schools law is so wimpy it would spend most of its time stuffed in a locker if it had to walk the halls of most schools.

But coming up with a tougher bill seems to be a lot harder than expected. The bill approved in the House last session has been lambasted by Republicans who have marked it as an over-reaching unfunded mandate and by some conservative and religious groups who are afraid that schools will force a gay rights agenda down students’ throats and curtail their freedom of religion.

Rep. Paul Torkelson sent out a press release this week voicing his objection to the bill under consideration, which is undergoing a lot of changes in committee hearings. Torkelson complains that the bill “would force schools to investigate all alleged cases of bullying and train teachers to spot and prevent it.” He claims the cost of teacher training an anti-bullying programs could reach $25 million.

First of all, we don’t know why the state should not require school districts to invesigate every report of bullying. There have been cases, unfortunately, where schools have not investigated, have not followed through, and where the victims of bullying have continued to suffer, some to the point of suicide. By the time a student and the student’s family reports bullying to a school, it has probably been going on for some time and has not been responding to the family’s efforts to make it stop.

As for the cost of teacher training, teachers already undergo a lot of in-service training and workshop days where they hear speakers on a variety of topics, from disciplinary strategies to new curriculum to drug issues and abuse. Chances are most are already hearing speakers and receiving training on bullying. It shouldn’t take that much money away from classroom instruction to focus on how to recognize bullying in the classroom.

Minnesota does have an anti-bullying law, a short, 37-word statute that is considered one of the weakest in the nation.

Bullying, meanwhile, has grown from a big kid pushing a little kid around on the playground to non-stop attacks via social media that can reach a child even at home and attack their looks, their lifestyle and their very sense of self worth. The state should be worrying about keeping up with this problem, not pretending that the status quo is good enough.

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