SUBSCRIBE NOW Just 99¢ for your first month

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Anti-bullying law takes effect this school year

Mayo High School senior Kristian Kennedy still remembers what it felt like to be bullied in middle school.

We are part of The Trust Project.

Mayo High School senior Kristian Kennedy still remembers what it felt like to be bullied in middle school.

"The teachers didn't really know what to do or how to deal with it," Kennedy said.

That's one of the reasons the 17-year-old traveled to the Minnesota Capitol earlier this year to urge lawmakers to pass a bill strengthening bullying prevention programs in schools. The law Kennedy helped fight for takes effect this school year. It replaces the state's 37-word policy with one of the toughest anti-bullying policies in the nation.

As students prepare to head back to the classroom, school administrators are hard at work trying to put the required training and policies into practice. Dover-Eyota Public Schools Superintendent Bruce Klaehn said the biggest effect to his district is the additional administrative work.

"We all understand that the Legislature felt that it needed more attention and we respect that, but there is a lot of additional paperwork," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The law requires school districts investigate all reports of bullying within three days. Districts must also provide training every three years for all teachers and staff on how to prevent and identify bullying. For new teachers, the training must be provided within their first year at the school. All districts are required to designate a staff person to make sure the district is complying with the new law.

Klaehn said it's a misconception that school districts were not doing anything to address bullying in the past. He said Dover-Eyota Public Schools already had an extensive anti-bullying policy in effect and trained its staff on the issue. The school district also is working to update its bullying policies to comply with the new law, but it probably will not get final approval from the school board until October. Nonetheless, he said the district is not wasting time getting to work on updating its procedures.

"In the mean time, we are aware of what the law now requires, and we will do everything in our power to abide by that law right at the very beginning," Klaehn said.

Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz said his district also has done extensive bullying prevention work in the past. One major change is the new law requires districts to make sure all school personnel — not just teachers — get anti-bullying training. That means making sure school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians are getting training. Krenz said in the past, those individuals may have been overlooked when it comes to anti-bullying education.

His district also is working to update its bullying policies and relying on some draft proposals created by the Minnesota School Boards Association and the Minnesota Department of Education. Krenz said one of the best things about the new law is it provides a clear definition of bullying.

"Bullying has now been defined in that legislation as something that is continuous, ongoing and creates a power differential, and I think that will help in terms of people better understanding," he said.

Rochester Public Schools also is working to update its bullying policy, according to spokeswoman Heather Nessler. The Rochester School Board is expected to vote on the updated policy at its Sept. 16 meeting. In addition, school administrators and district staff have received training on law.

The anti-bullying law has its share of critics, who say it goes too far and amounts to another unfunded mandate for school districts. The law is estimated to cost districts across the state $20 million per year. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said if Republicans regain control of the Minnesota House, he will urge his colleagues to make repealing the legislation a top priority.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It takes away the freedom and the autonomy for school districts to meet the needs of their particular district in ways that best fit their district, their culture, their area, their people," he said. "And the reality is our schools, and at least those I represent, are doing a very good job. It's unnecessary and overly burdensome."

But supporters say the law was needed because of inconsistencies across the state in how bullying incidents were being handled. Vangie Castro, a member of the state's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying, said she repeatedly has talked to students who told her they complained about bullying to school administrators but nothing was ever done. She said she is optimistic the new law will make a difference in how these cases are treated in the future.

"It gives the kids something that they can fall back on because they know that there is a law that helps protect them, that the school is required to do something and they can't just brush it away," said Castro, a youth education program manager for Rochester's Diversity Council.

The legislation also sets aside $1 million to create the School Safety Technical Assistance Center. Minnesota Department of Education spokesman Josh Collins said a director was recently hired for the center and a 23-member council charged with overseeing the center's work will have its first meeting Sept. 16. The goal of the center is to serve as a resource to school districts by providing research-based ways to prevent and deal with bullying. The center also plans to offer training for districts.

As for Kennedy, she will be spending her senior year of high school taking classes at the University of Rochester-Minnesota. She's hoping the law she helped lobby for will make a real difference — especially when it comes to how teachers handle complaints.

"That's where the problem is. The kids who are being bullied aren't getting any help," she said. "I think it will help (teachers) understand what they need to be doing."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
What to read next
Experts say obstetrics and gynecology training programs in so-called "abortion refugee" states such as Minnesota will be needed to serve an increase of out-of-state physicians seeking training in abortion care as part of an accredited program. Mayo and UMN offer the only such residencies in Minnesota.
See the latest COVID-19 numbers updated daily.
Both Sanford Health and Essentia Health in Fargo report more inquiries from new mothers about breastfeeding.
A whiff of the sweet smells of springtime are a seasonal joy. But the pollen-filled air also may send people with allergies running to their medicine cabinets. In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams gets tips on how to handle seasonal allergies from asthma and allergy specialist.