We need anti-bullying bill, but schools need control

The Minnesota Catholic Conference wants private religious schools to be exempt from the requirements in the bill known as the Safe & Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, and last week, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis called on Catholic educators and parents to contact their legislators and urge them to oppose the comprehensive anti-bullying legislation.

The bill, like so many before it, has its share of opponents, but Minnesota’s current bullying policies are, quite frankly, a joke, and we should welcome any legislation that will change things in our schools.

The fact that Minnesota’s bullying policy is so ridiculously lax is a real red flag and why the bill is so stringent in nature.

According to the Safe Schools For All Coalition, a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Education rated Minnesota’s current anti-bullying law as the weakest in the nation. Current law requires school districts to have a policy against bullying but doesn’t specify what the policy should say or who should be protected. It also doesn’t require staff development for educators or learning activities for students on bullying prevention and intervention. And it doesn’t address what should be done to help students who bully examine their attitudes and change their behavior. The law needs to be repealed. Our students, all of them, need to be protected, and all parents deserve the peace of mind that will come with more strict, detailed policies.

These issues must be addressed, because bullying, as we all know, is nothing new and isn’t going away anytime soon. It is arguably worse than it was decades ago, before social networking came on the scene.

The state clearly needs to change the current anti-bullying law, on that we can all agree. But that’s as far as it should go at that level. From there, the schools, each and every one of them, should have the freedom to adopt their own policies while working under the guidelines provided by the state.

We need to find some balance here.

We don’t blame the schools for not wanting the government to keep its foot stuck in the door on this one – our schools probably don’t trust many of our policymakers as it is – so let’s get going on a new, widespread law, give it to our schools and let them develop their own plan of action. And if the state says schools need to meet certain criteria, it should help pay for training and support.

There are good things in the Safe & Supportive Minnesota Schools Act (HF 826/SF 783), but that doesn’t necessarily make it good legislation.