In a conference room at the Minnesota Department of Education headquarters in Roseville, a final meeting took place Monday morning on an issue that could shape Minnesota schools for decades.
"The governor was concerned about the state's response, school districts' responses, to the issue of harassment and bullying inside schools based on some high-profile incidents," said Walter Roberts, Jr., the co-chair of the Governor's Prevention of School Bullying Task Force.
Those high-profile incidents included accusations that the Anoka-Hennepin School District did not do enough to stop bullying of gay students. The district's school board eventually voted to settle two lawsuits, including agreeing to pay $270,000 to student plaintiffs out of an insurance fund. The district also agreed to a 5-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education to develop viable reforms that could become a model for other school districts.
In a four-month span, the task force, featuring lawmakers, educators and members of the public, traveled the state seeking input from numerous sources.
"We met with hundreds of Minnesotans: students, parents, school district staff, concerned citizens," Roberts said.
Their research resulted in a 45–page document that will potentially lay the groundwork for new anti–bullying legislation.
"We're looking at getting a consistent, baseline policy for all school districts, specifically for the purpose of protecting every child in every school district equally," Roberts said.
The policy would include an official definition of bullying and guidelines for classroom lessons. It remains to be seen when the task force's recommendations will be implemented.
"We know it's a process, but one of the things we talked about in our report is we talked a great deal about immediacy and urgency in terms of responding to the recommendations," Roberts said.
It will be up to Governor Dayton to choose what bullying prevention recommendations he brings forth to the state legislature next year. For a look at the task force's draft report, click here.
Delane Cleveland & 12 News Staff
July 30, 2012