Most of you will remember a time in your youth when the boy in the desk behind you stuck a sign on your back that said “I’m stupid,” or the big kids on the bus prevented you from finding a seat, or the girls in the locker room made fun of your underwear.
As innocent as all that may seem, the bitter memory of such moments often leaves a stinging impression for months or even years to come. Such acts create a toxic mix of fear, shame and anger that can fester long after the moment itself.
For years, parents, teachers, and other adults sloughed it off as “teasing” or “horseplay,” but today we know it by its real name — bullying. Thankfully, bullying is something that schools and other organizations have learned to take very seriously these days.
In 2006, the Minnesota Legislature passed a measure that requires school boards to adopt policies that address intimidation and bullying. A couple of years later, the mandate was updated to include cyberbullying as well.
We’ve heard a lot about what schools around our area are doing to comply with this directive and all of it is good stuff. And yet, Minnesota’s policy leaves a lot to be desired because it lacks any real substance when it comes to defining just what constitutes bullying and what authority schools have in matters regarding bullying.
Now this legislative session is faced with a new — and hopefully more effective — anti-bullying measure that would close the gaps. Dubbed the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, or simply the Safe Schools Act, it would require schools to develop specific policies to combat bullying and establish protections for victims of bullying.
The legislation has already received the buy-in of several influential groups and individuals, but it has its opponents as well who feel it leaves the door open to liability and lawsuits and the potential for misinterpretation of a particular episode that could land an innocent person in the midst of a court case.
In any case, it’s that bullying is an acknowledged social issue that needs to be addressed, and the schools should be congratulated on taking the lead.
A growing number of schools have chosen to take an even broader approach to combatting bullying, however, by encouraging students to practice positive, respectful behavior from the start before bullying ever gets a foothold.
By all indications, the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) program, as it is called, is working. A group of teachers from both Churchill and Washington elementary schools in Cloquet received special training and brought it back to become trainers at their own properties. During the course of this year, students have been learning — and practicing — the basics of appropriate behavior when interacting with teachers, fellow students and others to create a positive school environment. They’re learning everything from kindness and respect to the benefits of keeping their voices low so others can talk or hear, walking instead of running in the hallways, and being nice to others.
The students all learn a basic pledge and are rewarded in small ways for practicing positive behavior.
Sounds pretty simple, right? But after all, that’s where it all starts. And if it should happen that positive behavior is repeated and reinforced often enough to become common practice, there might come a day when bullying won’t stand a chance.