Our View: Bullied kids aren't on 'path of victimhood'
Rep. Steve Drazkowski has said some strident things during his nearly six years in the Legislature, but his repudiation of the anti-bullying bill passed by the Minnesota House might be his harshest rhetoric yet.
"We should have a bill that develops resiliency in kids and makes them strong," Drazkowski said Monday after the bill passed 72-57. "But this one goes the other direction. Instead of making kids stronger, it encourages them into a path of victimhood."
Drazkowski, a Republican from Mazeppa, sent a disturbing message with his criticism of the Safe Schools and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act. By using the words "resiliency" and "path to victimhood," Drazkowski essentially told bullied students to toughen up because it builds character and makes you stronger.
Tell that to Ann Gettis, a Kenyon woman whose 21-year-old son took his own life in 2006. Gettis appeared before the House Education Policy Committee, testifying that "I really believe that the years of being bullied darkened his perspective." Tell that to the families of two Rochester-area teenagers who committed suicide in 2012, with bullying being a likely factor in their tragic decisions.
We would have understood Drazkowski's objections if he had kept his remarks to saying bullying policies should be a local decision instead of a one-size-fits-all requirement, to questioning the financial effect on each school district or to saying students with outspoken political and religious convictions could be wrongly labeled as bullies. Those concerns, all legitimate, were debated in committee hearings leading up to Monday's floor vote.
The bill's chief author, Rep. Jim Davnie, a DFLer from Minneapolis, said an update to the state's 37-word anti-bullying law was necessary because it fostered a "checkerboard" of different policies between schools that left some students vulnerable to bullying. The cost, estimated to be $19.5 million statewide, would be covered by a $5-per-student increase in the safe schools levy.
Davnie's bill follows recommendations made by the Governor's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying. It establishes a definition for bullying. It requires training for teachers and school officials and obligates them to report cases of bullying. Public and charter schools that don't implement an anti-bullying policy could lose state aid.
A similar bill is working its way through the Senate, but a vote hasn't been scheduled.
This isn't the first time Drazkowski has entered the fray regarding anti-bullying legislation. Earlier in the session, working with the Minnesota Family Council, he authored an alternative bill that tried to ensure that no school's anti-bullying policy would infringe on a student's First Amendment rights to express "a religious, philosophical, moral or political viewpoint" as long as the student doesn't "materially disrupt the learning environment."
So his goal was to make sure that one student could publicly criticize a classmate — say one who is gay, or Muslim, or pregnant — as long as there was no "material disruption" in the classroom?
We've had occasion in the past to commend Drazkowski for his candor and his willingness to take unpopular stands. On this particular topic, however, he sounds a bit like a bully.