ST. PAUL Minn. — Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has announced he will name a 15-member task force to study the best methods used nationwide as state officials confront the problem of bullying in Minnesota’s schools.
“The time has long since passed to step up and say, ‘Enough, this does not have to be this way,'” Dayton said at a news conference Tuesday at the state capitol.
The Governor added that he wants to see “a Minnesota where every child can go to school and know it’s a place where they are valued, loved, where school is for learning and creating your future.”
According to a 2011 study by the state’s Departments of Health and Education, bullying is a problem that affects more than 100,000 students a week.
The governor laid out his plans for a 15-member panel that is slated to include the state’s commissioners of education, human rights and public safety; four legislators from both parties, and eight others with expertise in pediatrics, adolescent mental health, the juvenile judicial system, and education. The working group will report back to the governor’s office, the Legislature and the public by the first of August 2012.
Wednesday, Attorney General Lori Swanson proposed legislation to require school districts to respond to bullying reports within 24 hours. The bill also would require districts to create policies for reporting and documenting incidents, plans to protect students who are subject to bullying and those who report it. It was modeled after a law that drew bipartisan support this year in North Dakota.
Dayton noted that the task force had been in the works for some time but said he hoped Swanson’s proposal would complement its work. In addition to studying current research, members will look at other states’ laws and school policies, and interview experts, as well as educators, students and their families in hearings held statewide.
Dayton was joined by Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Public Safety Commissioner Mona Doman, Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey and Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Jim Davnie, both Minneapolis DFLers. He also was joined by Tammy Aaberg, an anti-bullying activist whose son Justin committed suicide in 2010.
Minnesota currently has the shortest anti-bullying law in the nation, at only 37 words, and requires only that districts have written policies in place prohibiting all forms of intimidation and bullying.
The law earned a C-minus grade from the watchdog group BullyPolice USA, the lowest grade of the 47 states that have anti-bullying laws.
“I want to have the A-plus-plus law, not the C-minus law,” said Dayton.