Safe and supportive schools

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Of all the outcomes we track about Minnesota schools, our graduation rates may be the most disconcerting. Our economy and our future rely on a workforce more educated and technically skilled than any previous generation. The kids we fail, the kids that drop out, the kids our system pushes out represent a failure to realize the potential of our state’s future. That such a disproportionate percentage of the kids who don’t graduate are students of color dooms us to another generation of intolerable racial inequity if we don’t act.

Maybe that’s why close to 100 organizations have signed on to the Minnesota Safe Schools for All Coalition. Research shows a strong correlation between bullying and negative outcomes in school, including drops in test scores and graduation rates. Leaving aside the devastating emotional costs of bullying including shame, insecurity, and even suicide (which should be enough reason), the achievement costs of doing nothing should be persuasive to anyone who cares about Minnesota’s future.

The proposed bill aims to create a school climate where students learn social and emotional skills to have develop positive relationships, and support from staff when they need it. Rather than suspending bullies and leaving bullied children to suffer alone—an approach that leaves both students fail—this bill asserts that it’s our job to intervene, to use restorative justice to support every child and give them the chance to succeed. To do that, we need to define the problem, we need to clearly state who is protected so that staff and students alike understand the law clearly, we need to create systems to report and track incidents of bullying so we can better understand the problem, and we need to provide the adults in schools with the training and support to respond to bullying effectively. The proposed bill does exactly that.

This week, teachers and community groups rallied together to launch an effort to pass the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act. It’s not enough on it’s own, but it’s one of the best feasible, immediate examples of the kind of transformative change we need in Minnesota schools.

Related story: PFLAG’s Cultivating Respect conference promotes safe schools for LGBT and all students (Bruce Johansen, 2013)