Verbal bullying (
by Steve Timmer
Jul 23, 2012, 9:30 AM

Dither, dither and more dither

Update on July 26th: Outfront Minnesota has an initiative called Safe Schools for All.

The governor’s task force on school bullying seems poised to turn in one of those baloney book reports you wrote in fifth grade when you hadn’t read the book. The report is due on August 1st and the only thing we know for sure right now is that the report will call for  strong anti-bullying measures. It just won’t say what they are.

 A state task force says Minnesota should pass a comprehensive, strongly worded anti-bullying law.


What does the report say about how the new law should look like, you ask? Not much apparently. Remember, the task force was assembled in the heady days April, fourteen members strong and full of hope. But it hasn’t prepared much of a brief yet:

So far, the draft recommendations do not include specific ways to change the state’s bullying law, but rather asks the state departments of Education and Human Services to come up with a base policy for all Minnesota’s schools.

“The policy recommendations as they are set out now seem very hands off. They seem like an abdication of our responsibility,” said task force member Jacob Reitan. He thinks the report’s first priority should be to recommend language for a new anti-bullying law in Minnesota. [emphasis added]

Rep. Tim Kelly, a Republican task force member from Red Wing thinks the task force ought to be drafting specimen bill, or at least a set of specific guidelines about what should be included in such a bill.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, however, is reporting as saying there is no time to draft a statute.

Reitan, it seems, is correct.

The sad fact is that a bill, called the Safe Schools for All Act, passed the Legislature in Minnesota in 2009. By all accounts it was a good bill. But Governor Pawlenty vetoed it, after having participated in the drafting of the final version of the bill and signaling that he would sign it.

What lies beneath the problems in drafting bullying legislation are organizations like the Minnesota Family Council, the Parent Action League (an organization holding the dubious distinction of “hate group” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center), and legislators like my own Keith Downey, who says that a bullying bill that “singles out” the LBGT community for protection gives it “special treatment.”

It’s “special treatment” we’re trying to avoid, Keith.

But a statute that does not specifically identify traditionally bullied groups for protection is useless. The Safe Schools for All bill did that, addressing bulling against several groups, including the GLBT community: the disabled for example. The Edina school system, where Keith Downey and I both sent our kids to school, and Downey’s father actually taught, has a comprehensive and detailed anti-bullying policy — not presently required by the state — that identifies several groups that are often the objects of bullying.

Kids get bullied for a lot of reasons, including just because they are small, or fat, or just because. These students deserve protection, too, but to use them as a reason to deny specific protection to students who are part of groups that are historically the objects of bullying and discrimination is a grotesque sleight of hand.

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