Editorial: A bullying law isn’t the solution for schools

Published 8:29 am Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Anti-bullying laws must go deeper than state schools.

First Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and then Gov. Mark Dayton recently announced they want Minnesota to bolster its anti-bullying laws for schools. Swanson supports proposed legislation, while Dayton issued an executive order that creates a gubernatorial task force to recommend actions to improve the state’s law.

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Both moves are in reaction to increased scrutiny of how schools handle bullying, especially after the state Departments of Health and Education combined to do a study that says more than 100,000 students are bullied every week in Minnesota. Both politicians appear to believe that schools should be doing more to combat this challenge.

It’s natural to want to support such efforts. However, it’s simplistic and misleading to believe it’s just a school problem.

While schools are a place where bullying does occur, ramping up the laws governing just them does not equate to solving the problem. If anything, it sets up educators as political scapegoats when this is an issue that should be resolved at home. In fact, if politicians really want to solve bullying they will aim solutions at children along with their parents. That might sound harsh, but ultimately those are the people mostly responsible.

Certainly, schools play important roles. Schools should be welcoming environments. Similarly, children should know whom they can turn to in school for help. And, yes, schools must have clear definitions, policies, procedures and punishments for addressing and resolving complaints about bullying.

To that end, it only makes sense for the state to lead efforts to create universal definitions and expectations for all schools. After all, that is what they do for academic standards. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to behavioral standards?

One aspect to note, though, is that if the state is going to require schools spend set amounts of time teaching about bullying, investigating complaints and reporting actions to the state, then the state must provide adequate resources. To do anything less is to foist another unfunded mandate on an already-struggling education system.

It also must be stressed that addressing this issue solely in schools won’t be enough. Look to cyberspace. How will new rules and reporting requirements for schools and educators ever stop kids from using their own technology and social media networks?

Issues like that are one reason we hope Dayton gave his task force until Aug. 1 to provide ideas. Again, yes, schools should be a major player in those efforts. But they are far from the only player, and they should not be held more responsible than parents and kids themselves.

— St. Cloud Times, Dec. 5

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