Bullying concerns call for new state resources


The policies Minnesota schools have implemented to address bullying are not working, said Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth).

“We’re having a lot of student concerns, very tragic in some cases that have been traced back to what would be considered bullying,” he told the House Government Operations Committee Wednesday.

Marquart sponsors HF1158 that would create a school climate council and a school climate center, which would offer resources and create, but not require, model policies to improve school safety around bullying issues. The council would include representatives from various groups across the state including school boards, state agencies, parents, local law enforcement and the judicial branch. The school climate center would be based in the Department of Education to provide guidance and information regarding safe learning environments.

The council and center is part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s January budget proposal and is expected to cost $1 million for the 2014-2015 biennium.

The committee approved the bill and moved it to the House Education Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) said the use of broad terms like “safe and welcoming” in the bill can have different meanings to different people.

“I don’t know what this would like in practice,” she said.

Marquart said while it can be difficult to write into statute, that’s the goal.

“What this would do as far as the climate council is to help schools implement and advise some of these (anti-bullying) strategies,” he said.

As part of a Minnesota Department of Education task force, Rose Hermodsen, the department’s assistant commissioner, said a substantial amount of research has been done concerning strategies that improve school climate.

Although bullying is exhibited in the school, she said the issue is often broader than the schools themselves.

“One of (the task force’s) strong recommendations was that we take a multi-agency and a community-based look at how we deal with this issue,” she said.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), on the other hand, said the bill moves away from local control directed education toward more state control. He questioned whether a state agency could understand a school’s specific needs or culture, which the bill seeks the school climate council and center to do.

“We’re going toward a centralized approach, yet we are going out there and claiming to be able to bring site-specific and culturally appropriate assistance to them,” he said.