MINNEAPOLIS - Federal officials say Minnesota needs to toughen up its anti-bullying law.
A Department of Education report on 46 states that have legislated against bullying gives Minnesota the lowest marks for the lack of scope and definitions in its law.
The Star Tribune reported Wednesday that Minnesota's 37-word law is the shortest anti-bullying law in the nation. It requires school boards to adopt an anti-bullying policy that addresses intimidation and bullying in all forms. It was passed in 2006 and amended in 2008 to include cyberbullying.
The federal report released Tuesday comes amid a growing focus on school bullying nationwide and across Minnesota in the wake of school violence and high-profile youth suicides. While other groups have ranked states' bullying laws, this is the first time the federal agency has done so, a move that stemmed from a bullying prevention summit held last year.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who proposed legislation last month to strengthen the state law, said she wasn't surprised by the state's poor grade.
"As a state, we should be a national leader," Swanson said. "Legislation doesn't stop all bullying, but we need to set a strong tone and culture in Minnesota that bullying isn't tolerated."
The Education Department report said Minnesota is one of two states that doesn't address the scope of where its legislation applies and under what conditions a school has authority over student conduct, such as at school-sponsored events. It also faults Minnesota, along with Wisconsin and Arizona, for prohibiting bullying without defining it.
Swanson's draft legislation contains a detailed definition of bullying: conduct that interferes with a student's educational opportunities, disrupts orderly operation of the school, or places the student in "actual and reasonable" fear of harm or of damage to property. It would also require school districts to create policies for reporting and documenting incidents, plans to protect students who are bullied and those who report it, and require a response to bullying reports within 24 hours. The measure is modeled after a new North Dakota law.
"It's no secret Minnesota has one of the weakest bullying laws in the country," Minnesota Department of Education spokeswoman Charlene Briner said. "We know we need to do better."
Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton announced a task force to re-examine the law and look at national best methods for confronting bullying. Briner said its members will be named and begin meeting by next month.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)