PACER Center endorses Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act
By Paula Goldberg and Julie Hertzog,
PACER Center, Bloomington, MN
Every year 13 million American children are bullied. That’s almost one in every three students and it’s likely affecting someone you know and care about. The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act will help protect all of our children.
Put yourself in the shoes of one particular student with disabilities, a child two to three times more likely to be a target of bullying than her peers. For weeks on end she had suffered physical and emotional harm. Her hair had been pulled, she had been kicked, punched and called every imaginable name. She had fled the school bus in fear and often stayed home altogether. The girl’s parents met with school administrators more than once and nothing was done. The principal’s advice: “Just ignore it and it will stop.” But simply ignoring behavior does not make it stop.
This is a real story about a child in Minnesota. Her parents felt they had no options or rights, but with the help of PACER Center the bullying finally stopped.
Founded in 1977, PACER Center is a nonprofit organization based in Minnesota that works with children with disabilities and their families. Every week we hear from children and families asking for help. In 2006, PACER founded the National Bullying Prevention Center and National Bullying Prevention Month (October) to help all children, including those with disabilities. We provide resources for students, parents, educators and communities. We recognize bullying as a serious community issue that impacts education, physical and emotional health, and the safety and well-being of everyone involved.
For too long our society has viewed bullying as a rite of passage, a normal part of childhood. PACER’s goal is to change the culture so that bullying is no longer considered acceptable behavior. We believe every child should be safe. Times change and so do society’s norms, from the use of car seats and seat belts to tobacco use, and drunk driving. It’s important to change society’s beliefs about bullying, too.
PERCEPTION VS. REALITY
PACER strongly supports the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act and recognizes that it has its opponents, which is not surprising as change is often accompanied by controversy. This law contains no hidden agenda. It provides students, families, teachers and school administrators with much-needed information, training, direction and support.
Some opponents of the bill are concerned about its impact on free speech, and while we all have the right to express our point of view, cruel insults and name-calling should not be permitted. Consider the students who are subjected to hallway taunts or derogatory slurs based on their disability, race, religion, gender or stereotypes. We suspect most Minnesotans would agree that such offensive speech has no place in our schools.
While some school districts have effective bullying prevention policies and programs, many do not, and there is no consistency from school to school. This legislation ensures that all Minnesota students are protected equally. Districts will be required to report on bullying situations, because without reporting there is no accountability.
A school staff member will need to be designated as the primary contact for bullying situations, but these duties can be absorbed by an existing staff member who will have the training and resources to provide a consistent, effective response. Students, parents and teachers will know where to turn for help and know they can count on a response.
Consider for a moment the cost of not taking action. When children are bullied they often miss school, lose their self-esteem, become isolated and their academic achievement declines. Students are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders and the long-term effects can be devastating. The hospitalization of a student who attempts suicide can cost more than a year of college. Think about the cost to society when students drop out of school due to bullying, and struggle to grow into healthy, functioning, contributing adults.
A MAJOR STEP FORWARD
Debate is healthy and we can and should talk about the issues, but in the same conversation we need to talk about students’ rights to be safe, to attend school in a non-threatening environment, and to be respected and valued for who they are. Bullying is a complex problem and there are no simple solutions. It requires a response from parents, educators, the community, students and legislators. The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act is a major step forward and we are confident that Minnesota’s lawmakers will do the right thing for our children this year.