Data and intuition tell us that safe schools are essential for the success of all students. Whether you think bullying is a “rite of passage,” data show that students who are bullied or harassed are lower-performing academically, less likely to graduate high school and less likely to attend post-secondary education when compared to their peers. Bullies often target students based on diverse characteristics, such as their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ability and special needs status, religion, race, ethnicity and national origin. In 2011, about one-third of students missed at least one day of school a month because they felt unsafe, and students who are harassed or bullied have lower GPAs compared to the average student (2.9 vs. 3.2).
You have often heard of Minnesota’s troubling race- and income-based achievement gaps. We have the data available to measure students’ graduation rates, academic proficiency and growth based on a number of factors including their race, ethnicity and family income. Solutions to address these gaps include establishing quality early learning programs for underserved families and elevating great teaching and leadership in every school. We must also consider nonacademic barriers to education success, such as ensuring students are fed and providing cultural competence programs for educators. Closing the achievement gap is necessary in providing a quality education for all students, which is why we must expand our understanding of the achievement gap to include victims of bullying.
Adults play a vital role in preventing harassment and assault of kids, yet student victims rarely report incidents and many see adults turn a blind eye to the acts. For example, nearly 60 percent of incidents go unreported–the most common reasons: doubts that the adult would effectively address the situation and fears that reporting would make the situation worse in some way. Students’ fears hold water when only a third of reported cases are adequately addressed. Anecdotal evidence shows that educators, school leaders, other employees and volunteers who witness bullying are ill-equipped to recognize and address harassment or assault.
Before yesterday, Minnesota had the weakest bullying law in the country–only requiring school districts to have a bullying policy, but not give any guidance on what should be in such a policy. The epidemic of nine student suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District put an unflattering national spotlight on Minnesota and underscores the necessity of having effective anti-bullying provisions in place. In recent years, policymakers and community advocates committed to drafting a commonsense solution–the result being the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act.
MinnCAN is committed to public policy that works to create great public schools for every kid. We support clearly defining bullying, harassment and assault. We also support enumerating the list of characteristics that are most frequently the subject of bullying and harassment, such as race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability and religion. Gov. Dayton signed the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act (HF 826) into law yesterday marking a great step forward in recognizing the importance safe schools have on student achievement and lifelong success.
- Define bullying, including cyber-bullying, and would specifically prohibit it on the basis of sexual orientation, race or religion, among other characteristics;
- Apply to actions on school premises, at school functions, on school transportation or by use of school technology;
- Establish bullying prevention programs for all students in K-12 public schools;
- Outline procedures to be established locally for reporting and documenting alleged acts of bullying, reprisal or retaliation;
- Require law enforcement be notified if an investigation by public school personnel results in a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred;
- Outline strategies to protect a victim of bullying, reprisal or retaliation;
- Require the education commissioner to develop a state model policy, and require a district or school that doesn’t adopt a local policy to implement the state policy;
- Establish a school climate center at the Minnesota Department of Education to help schools implement a bullying policy; and
- Require notification to the parent or legal guardian of a student allegedly bullying or when school personnel receive a report of prohibited conduct, throughout and upon completion of the investigation, and upon determining the course of any disciplinary action.