Gov. Dayton forms task force to address school bullying

Anoka-Hennepin parent speaks in St. Paul

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
A mother spoke of her son’s suicide at the launch of a task force on Tuesday, Nov. 29, one tasked by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to make recommendations on the problem of school bullying.
Tammy Aaberg, whose 15-year-old son Justin was bullied in the Anoka-Hennepin School District and later committed suicide, appeared at a State Capitol press conference to endorse the creation of the task force.

Tammy Aaberg, whose teenage son Justin was a victim of bullying in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, appeared at the State Capitol on Nov. 29 to endorse the creation of an anti-bullying task force. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“Every day we do nothing leaves more students feeling defenseless and afraid of going to school,”  Aaberg said.
“Bullying and harassment happens daily in our schools, and is very harmful to students — even sometimes deadly, as in my son’s Justin’s case,” she said.
The task force, which will be made up by state officials, legislators, and members of the public is tasked with issuing a report by August 2012.
The group is to study best practices, analyze existing policies and laws, confer with experts, clearly define what is meant by bullying, intimidation, harassment.
“The (Minnesota bullying) statute is only 37-words, so it begs for improvement,” Dayton said.
Dayton spoke of the “emotional torture” some students endure at the hands of bullies, and said every child should feel safe and respected for who they are.
Aaberg stressed that anti-bullying policies should be inclusive. Policies should be aimed at protecting children from bullying for reasons of race, religion, sexual orientation, physical appearance, religion, other.
School boards need guidance, Aaberg said. Additionally, protocols need to be in place as to educate bullies themselves on the affects of their behavior, she explained.
She also spoke of the need for stronger enforcement regarding school districts’ responses to bullying.
Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bullying bill in 2009 that would have created the classifications Aaberg calls for.
“I wonder how many lives would have been saved had the bill passed in 2009 instead of being vetoed,” she said.
Pawlenty at the time called bullying a serious problem, but argued the legislation passed by the then DFL-controlled Legislature was duplicating existing state law.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, two lawmakers who have worked on bullying legislation, appeared at the press conference and also endorsed the formation of the task force.
Dibble called it an issue “crying out for leadership.”

Photo of Justin Aaberg from a Facebook page honoring him.

Recently, Democratic Attorney General Lori Swanson proposed anti-bullying legislation, and Dayton views his and Swanson’s efforts as complementing the other.
Although Dayton said there was no reason the task force couldn’t conclude its report prior to August 2012, Dibble is “dubious” of an anti-bullying bill being passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature after lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.