When the time came to discuss cyber-bullying in class last month, we quickly discovered that finding a clear definition would not be easy. With a lack of federal action on the matter, the issue has largely been left to states to sort out. Unfortunately, we here in Minnesota have one of the weakest and most ambiguous state laws with respect to bullying. Frankly, I was astonished when I asked a student to look up the statute, only to find that it was just 37 words long, passing the buck to school districts for them to create policies on bullying.
As you can see, there’s not a lot to it. What’s most troubling is the vast inconsistency that the law has generated among school districts in the state. According to a six-month investigation by Minnesota Public Radio, where you live has an enormous effect on what the policy covers. Some districts state that the policy covers acts of bullying on and off-campus, while others don’t even mention electronic bullying at all. It’s not clear where school districts derive the authority to monitor behavior that takes place outside of school, even though some school districts have claimed that “anything that interferes with school.” That’s a constitutionally troubling response because, well, where does it end? Another thing we noticed, and was raised in the MPR report, is that there’s no enforcement mechanism in the state law to ensure that districts comply with even the vague tenets of this law. Presumably, the state Department of Education should be checking to make sure each district has a policy, but that’s not clearly stated in the law and agencies cannot regulate without at least vague authority from the legislature.
With all of the high-priority bills that the Minnesota House and Senate have to pass before the end of the session next week, it seems doubtful that we’ll see an amended statute that at least provides some guidelines for school districts or even hands the matter over to the Department of Education to handle. In the mean time, kids and parents across the state who are faced with bullying will have to deal with the hodgepodge rules and hope their school districts are equipped to deal with the problem that doesn’t even have a uniform definition.
One good resource that might prove useful is the Cyberbullying Research Center, which has a wealth of information and research about the issue. As communication technology evolve there will continue to be new forms of bullying. If the state isn’t capable of creating laws, it falls on those closest to the problem. Parents and teachers need to keep up if they want to be sure that no kids suffer the harm that taunts and fake Facebook pages and viral tweets can cause.