Tackling Identity-Based Bullying: Minnesota’s Safe and Supportive Schools Act

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The Minnesota legislature made history this week by passing a comprehensive bullying prevention and response bill that goes beyond the simple “zero tolerance” measures advanced in most bullying legislation and gets to the roots of identity-based bullying in our school communities.

MN Gov. Mark Dayton signs the Safe and Supportive Schools Act on the Capitol steps in St. Paul (Source)

MN Gov. Mark Dayton signs the Safe and Supportive Schools Act on the Capitol steps in St. Paul (Source)

The Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Act is likely the most in-depth and research-based piece of bullying legislation in the country, focusing not only on the identity-based nature of bullying rooted in power but on diversity and inclusion efforts that can transform school climate to ensure bullying doesn’t take another life in Minnesota.

Identity-Based Bullying

One of the most transformative aspects of the new law is its focus on the particular identities that are most likely to be targeted for bullying in American schools.  In doing so, the law prohibits “intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harassing conduct” that might be directed at a student on the basis of (though not limited to):

a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A, the Minnesota Human Rights Act” (Bill Text).

It’s exciting for us in the CivilSchools team to see legislation that so closely echoes our own definition of bullying while also echoing the “research on bullying dynamics [which] shows that bullying is often aimed at specific groups” such as “children with disabilities, African American youth, LGBTQ youth” and others (American Education Research Association, 2013).

At CivilSchools, we call this “Identity-Based Bullying,” and our comprehensive program offers schools teachers, students, administrators, and parents tools for designing school-specific interventions to prevent and respond to bullying behavior, no matter the identity being targeted.

A Focus on Culture and Climate

Aside from their inclusive and research-based definition of bullying, we at CivilSchools commend the legislature for taking the strong, preventative stance to include “developmentally appropriate programmatic instruction to help students identify, prevent, and reduce prohibited conduct; value diversity; foster students’ knowledge and skills for solving problems, managing conflict, engaging in civil discourse, and recognizing, responding to, and reporting prohibited conduct; and make effective prevention and intervention programs available to students” (Bill Text).

By advancing diversity and inclusion and conflict management education in schools, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act ensures that the bill does more than focus on “reporting, investigating, and intervening when bullying has occurred” but moves into “prevention efforts [that are] a key focus for school-based anti-bullying and harassment efforts” proven effective by research (AERA, 2013).

Finally, the act seeks to empower all community members to stand up to bullying by requiring districts to “train student bystanders to intervene in and report prohibited conduct incidents to the primary contact person” (Bill Text) while also training teachers and engaging parents.

CivilSchools: A Perfect Fit for Minnesota

In short, we at CivilSchools can’t wait to partner with more schools throughout Minnesota to offer the kind of training for teachers, UPstander Intervention Training for students, and engagement for parents necessary to effectively prevent bullying before it starts.

We are thankful to all of those legislators, community members, and advocacy groups who fought hard to ensure that this bill passed, as it establishes a model for states around the country to push for effective, research-based legislation to protect our young people from bullying.

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