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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Who’s a bully? (04/28/2013)
By Frances Edstrom


A new “bullying” bill is in the Minnesota Legislature, under the guise of “education reform.” It is yet another example of government posturing designed to convince the people that, yes, those in power have our backs. In reality, it is nothing but an expensive boondoggle that will not stop bullying, will not stop school violence, and will not make our most vulnerable children feel any safer or be any safer.

Our local school districts will be on the hook for the substantial cost of implementing the laws. There must be a person named in the district who is charged with implementation, reporting, and all the other endless paperwork associated with the law. When it is time to make budget cuts, that position can’t be cut. This is the way our education administration becomes top heavy, taking valuable funds from the classroom and putting them right in the office kitty. And to what effect?

My mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse. When she had a problem, she was allowed to discipline the kids, and she would report it to the school committee or directly to the student’s parents, who were not afraid to implement their own discipline. When I was in school, nuns taught us. (Need I say more?) Discipline was strict, and parents bought into it and were not afraid to discipline us at home. My own children benefited from an education experience in which they were expected to act in a fair and civilized manner, in return for adults (most of them, at any rate) treating them the same.

When did adults become so timid and afraid? Teachers are afraid of crossing administrators and the union. Teachers are afraid of the students! Parents are afraid of crossing their own children, whom they have given unprecedented freedom to determine their own moral code.

Shortly after my own kids had graduated from Winona Senior High, I was still advisor for the student newspaper. (There is no longer a paper.) As I entered the building after school one day for our newspaper meeting, I watched two burly upperclassmen pick up a smaller student and stuff him head first into a trash barrel. This happened four feet away from two administrators who were standing in the hall. They did nothing. I yelled at the bullies and told them to get the kid out of the barrel. They did. The administrators did not acknowledge the incident at all, ever.

Last year, a student video of a female student at Winona Senior High School being beaten by another female student surfaced on Facebook. When a parent at the high school demanded from Superintendent Scott Hannon to know what the school had done about it, this is what Hannon wrote to the school board:

“As Principal Halvorsen mentioned in her part of the email the student who hit the other student was disciplined. The girl who took the video and put it on Facebook has also been disciplined and has taken the video down. It was very clear in the investigation that this was not due to bullying or continued harassment. [Hannon’s underline.] The girl who was hit allegedly said something about the other girl. The assaulter asked her on two separate occasions to tell her what she said. The girl did not respond to her either time and the assaulter then hit her several times. The victim did not want to press charges with the police, but the police have charged it out anyway.”

Thank goodness the superintendent will have to change his attitude if this bill passes. According to the Senate bill, “Bullying means use of one or a series of words, images, or actions, directly or indirectly between individuals or through technology, that a reasonable person knows or should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of materially interfering with the ability of an individual, including a student who observes the conduct, to participate in a safe and supportive learning environment. Examples of bullying may include, but are not limited to, conduct that: (1) places an individual in reasonable fear of harm to person or property, including through intimidation.” Nowhere does it even intimate that if you refuse to talk to someone she can punch you in the nose. But I suppose it’s all in how a person interprets it. To see the entire bill go to www.revisor.mn.gov and search for SF 783.

Because the adults running our schools are impotent in the face of bad, and even violent, behavior on the part of our children, we have a bill in the Legislature that will not really help with the problem, but will give educators and legislators the opportunity to say they are doing all they can do. All they can do, apparently, is spend money. It is estimated that the bill will cost Minnesota public school districts $26 million to implement.



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