Don’t wait on bullying law

Minnesota students need a more comprehensive bullying law to help administrators protect them.

State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, presented a new version of an anti-bullying bill this week that would help protect students. Dibble co-authored the legislation and reworked the bill with tighter definitions of bullying after other lawmakers criticized loose language in the original bill. Though some still criticize the bill’s coverage, lawmakers must quickly settle on better language. The Legislature can’t afford to wait on passing an anti-bullying bill.

Minnesota has a remarkably weak anti-bullying law, at just 37 words. While laws can only go so far to address the widespread, cultural phenomenon, Dibble’s law would require some school staff to go through additional training.

Bullying is a developing issue for schools, so it likely requires more training. It has changed along with students, moving to non-traditional spaces like social media. It’s also widespread: 13 percent of Minnesota students reported regularly facing bullying once a week or more, according to a Minnesota Department of Health and Education analysis of the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey.

It’s important to remember that bullying can have serious consequences. The MDH analysis found a correlation between bullying and lower grades, drug and alcohol use and experiencing violence.

JAMA Pediatrics released a report this week linking childhood bullying and suicide in adolescents. Suicide among young people has been an issue for the state in the past. There were several suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District that gained national attention between 2009 and 2012, for example. The bill’s authors put in language to limit bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These issues were at the root of the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s controversy. This is welcome language in a state with a poor track record of protecting gay and lesbian students.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill, so it is now headed to the Senate Finance Committee. We hope, when the time comes, that the Legislature recognizes its place in protecting Minnesota students and passes an anti-bullying bill.