Minnesota anti-bullying law criticized as ‘shortest’ in nation

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

Minnesota Public Radio published a scathing six-month investigation into the state's weak anti-bullying law, pointing out the statute is among the shortest in the nation.

The law leaves anti-bullying policies up to individual school districts: "Each school board shall adopt a written policy prohibiting intimidation and bullying of any student. The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use," it reads.

Only Hawaii, Michigan, Montana and South Dakota have weaker anti-bullying protections, MPR reports, and that's because those states have passed no laws on the issue altogether.

Anti-bullying advocates say that unlike 35 other states, Minnesota does not even define bullying in its brief law, rendering the statute toothless.

Several Minnesota students whose families said they had been bullied have taken their own lives over the past few years, drawing new attention and urgency to preventing harassment at schools. One such student was Justin Aaberg, pictured above, who committed suicide in July 2010. His mother became a fierce advocate for strong anti-bullying and anti-gay bullying measures after Aaberg's friends told her he'd been relentlessly harassed for being gay. (Mental health experts caution that depression and other disorders are almost always at the root of suicide, and that mental health issues shouldn't be obscured by the discussion of bullying.)

An analysis by the state's department of health estimates that 100,000 Minnesota students are bullied and harassed at least once a week. A national push to require all school districts to take dedicated measures to prevent bullying--and specifically bullying that targets gay students--has not resulted in legislation. Though the Department of Education warned schools they could be prosecuted if they fail to prevent gender- and race-based harassment, since that would be a violation of students' civil rights.

"Simply put, we think in this country, bullying should not exist," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters in October, after bullied students' suicides made national news. "We need to work together as fast as we can to eliminate this issue. This has been--tragically--a huge wake-up call for the nation."

(Aaberg: AP Photo/Family Photo)