Minnesota: Weak on Bullying

Minnesota school districts have inconsistent bullying policies

May 16, 2011
"Each school board shall adopt a written policy prohibiting intimidation and bullying of any student. The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use."
-Minnesota statute 121A.0695

When MPR News discovered the state doesn't have a repository of individual bullying policies required by state law, we asked all Minnesota school districts and charter schools -- 492 in all -- to send us theirs. In many cases, it took multiple emails, phone calls and letters. All but 19 responded.

Most sent us complete policies. A few sent excerpts about their policies contained in student handbooks or other sources. We have posted what the schools and districts sent us.

View all bullying policies

We found a vast majority districts and charters have a bullying policy on record. Three out of four rely on a six-page model policy template drafted by the Minnesota School Boards Association. The MSBA model follows most of the recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Education for an acceptable bullying policy. A key difference is that the MSBA model lacks any requirements for tracking bullying incidents, which the federal government recommends.

The MSBA template also isn't clear on whether parents should be notified when their child is a victim of bullying. A notification clause states: "School officials will notify the parent(s) or guardian(s) of students involved in a bullying incident and the remedial action taken, to the extent permitted by law, based on a confirmed report." The same clause notes that districts aren't permitted to disclose to victims private information about perpetrators. Officials with the U.S. Department of Education and anti-bullying advocates say it's important that parents know when their children have been subject to bullying.

Of the quarter of districts that don't use the MSBA template, several go beyond to include such things as incident tracking and counseling options for both victims and perpetrators. Others have added the word "bullying" to harassment policies that define and prohibit behaviors based on the race, religion or sex of the victim. That doesn't cover the wider range of reasons for intimidation that is behind much bullying.

"Harassment of protected classes of individuals -- in other words, harassment based on one's race or gender -- those are concerns with federal law," said Susan Limber, a professor of psychology at Clemson University who studies bullying. "I think confusing the terms 'bullying' and 'harassment' can be problematic in schools."

In some cases, the district bullying policies constitute just a few paragraphs that do little to define such behavior or consequences. Twenty-nine policies did not contain the word "bullying."

We also found that 150 policies that were sent to us did not define so-called "cyber-bullying," potentially putting them out of compliance with state law. State officials say it's possible that those districts have cyber-bullying provisions detailed outside their main bullying policy - in a "Use of Technology" policy, for instance. The state Department of Education doesn't check on compliance.

We analyzed the policies two ways. For districts that use the Minnesota School Board Association template, we ran the policy through software to identify any revisions from the MSBA template. Those revisions are annotated and listed in the right sidebar of each policy.

(Methodology note: Shortly before we asked for policies last November, the MSBA made a series of language changes to its template. As a result, we got some policies based on the MSBA's 2008 draft and some that were updated to the 2010 draft. Because many districts said they hadn't yet incorporated those language changes but planned to, and to minimize on the annotations, we decided to compare policies against their original source. That source, either 2008 or 2010, is noted in the annotations.)

We also compared all policies against a checklist of recommended elements from the U.S. Department of Education and a grassroots anti-bullying organization called Bully Police USA. The annotations listed in the right sidebar on each document also reflect where we found the policies matched or deviated from those recommendations.

Bullying policies by category

Based on MSBA model policy

We found 370 districts and charter schools base their policies on the Minnesota School Board Association's model. Most make revisions, ranging from small tweaks to language to removing major sections. We annotated those revisions and listed them in the right sidebar of the document pages..
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Not based on MSBA model policy

We found 105 policies that did not appear to rely on the Minnesota School Board Association's model. In some cases, they may have adopted portions of the MSBA language, but not in a way that was recognizably similar to the model template. This category also includes districts that sent us harassment and hazing policies (sometimes based on MSBA models for those policies), rather than bullying policies. Several of the schools sent excerpts from student handbooks; others sent policies that amount to only a few paragraphs.
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No mention of bullying

Twenty-nine policies did not use the word "bullying." Many of these were harassment policies that focus on offenses based on the victim's race, religion or sex. In other cases, the policies reference violence, assault, verbal abuse or intimidation, behaviors that can constitute bullying.
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No definition of cyber-bullying

Though lawmakers amended the bullying statute in 2007 to require districts to address bullying in "electronic forms and forms involving Internet use," we found 152 districts had no definition in their policies. Some told us they were in the process of adding such language. (The policies we posted reflect what they sent us, not any changes made since.)
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Districts that did not respond

  • Academy Of North Minneapolis
  • Cedar Riverside Community School
  • Best Academy
  • Dugsi Academy
  • Face To Face Academy
  • High School For Recording Arts
  • Hope Community Academy
  • Lighthouse Academy Of Nations
  • Long Tieng Academy
  • Ubah Medical Academy Charter School
  • Metropolitan Learning Alliance
  • Nett Lake Public School District
  • New Millennium Academy Charter School
  • Odyssey Academy
  • Oshki Ogimaag Charter School
  • Pine Grove Leadership Academy
  • Riverway Learning Community Charter
  • Rochester Math & Science Academy
  • Sage Academy Charter School