Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton Gets Tough on Bullying

Earlier this year, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton appointed a task force to review the state laws that currently protect victims of bullying. The goal of the task force is to recommend alterations to the law to make sure that it deals adequately with the kinds of bullying incidents common in a more technologically-advanced age. In addition, last week Dayton called on school districts around the state to appoint an administrator to head local anti-bullying efforts aimed at making every student feel secure when attending class.

During his announcement, Dayton said that it was important that when it came to bullying and harassment in schools, each district had someone to whom they could point and say "The buck stops here!" That is the only way, he added, that administrators can make sure that students and their parents know that their concerns were being addressed.

Currently, all incidents of school bullying are covered by a law that is merely 37 words long. For some time, lawmakers as well as educators have called for it to be expanded and strengthened. Dayton himself said that the law currently rated "a D-minus, at best."

"It really is so painful to read and think about," Dayton told task force members, referring to pages of testimony from students and parents whose children were bullied or harassed for things like physical or learning disabilities or sexual orientation. "It is really disgraceful (that) in Minnesota, it has received such scant attention."

The task force, comprising several dozen educators, lawmakers and members of the law enforcement community, has been working on an update to the law since this February. Its initial findings indicate that the law currently on the books is ineffective and should be entirely scrapped and replaced with one that defines bullying more comprehensively. Proponents hope that their draft proposal will be ready in time for the state legislature to take it up when it reconvenes this fall.

The task force's report also advised schools to partner with local groups to fight bullying and pointed out the necessity of accurate record keeping on the district level of every reported incident.

Minnesota now tracks incidences of discipline, but those records are not as detailed as task force members thought they should be, something the governor called "a serious oversight."

Some prominent bullying cases came out of the Anoka-Hennepin schools, where students said they were harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. District officials settled a lawsuit this year in connection with those harassment claims.

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