Tougher state rules on bullying needed

There is an urgent message about the need to have established policies and strategies in place to confront bullying in schools, governed by a state policy that is considered the weakest and shortest in the country.

A Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on bullying reported that more than half of middle and high school students say they were bullied in the 2010-2011 school year.

The task force said it’s urgent that the state strengthen the state’s 37-word bullying law, which merely says schools should have a written policy on bullying.

Since it is so weak and hard to administer, some school districts are reluctant to enforce it.

Task force members realize how serious the problem of student bullying is after they went around the state listening to young people talk about the problem.

One alarming statement in their report to the governor is: “Our sense of urgency directly reflects what the public has told us throughout this process. The reality is that many students are in crisis right now and efforts to affect positive change already take too long.”

The task force says the state should define bullying, including cyberbullying. It should mandate that schools report bullying incidents and responses. It also says school districts should have a baseline of support for the bullied and the tools to help them.

Given the conservative make-up of the Minnesota Legislature, chances of seeing the state policy changed are slim. They say local school boards should handle bullying, not the state. Some say there shouldn’t be laws for special populations.

This special population, the bullied and the bullies, need state regulations and the task force’s recommendations are good starters, no matter if the state doesn’t act.

The definition is complex, but the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners recently OK’d a new workforce bullying policy, one of the first in the nation to do so. They define it as “Workplace bullying is persistent behavior by a person or group that is threatening, humiliating and or intimidating.”

The county board’s policy may in fact be getting to the root of bullying by young people. This policy targets adults in the workplace.

Some will suggest we’ve become a bullying society: bullying in the workplace, in our violent movies and television programs, in our marriages and in our elections where we choose up sides and bombard one another with negative messages. We even call the so-called swing states, “battlegrounds.”

Young people just may be modeling the behavior of their parents.

There was a time when bullying was thought to be a harmless result of kids just being kids. Parents would tell their bullied kids to fight their own battles.

That is no longer the case. Adults as well as legislators should lobby to enact tougher bullying policies at a time when a task force says bullying is at a “crisis stage.”

Don Heinzman is an ECM Publishers columnist and editorial writer.