ND lawmakers debate solutions to bullying

2011-03-15T00:30:00Z 2011-03-15T00:30:21Z ND lawmakers debate solutions to bullyingThe Associated Press The Associated Press
March 15, 2011 12:30 am

 BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Minot state Sen. Oley Larsen says his Scandinavian name made him a constant target growing up, but the outspoken critic of a pair of anti-bullying bills says punishing those who torment others won't solve the problem.

The Republican, who works as a Minot high school shop teacher, told the House Education Committee on Monday that schools should instead teach students how not to take a bully's words seriously.

"The bully will never leave," Larsen said. "As an infant in diapers, kids are aggressive to each other. At the workplace, adults are aggressive to each other. It's the education of how not to be victimized that's the key, and that's been lost."

Larsen earned a master's degree in educational leadership at North Dakota State University and said he was influenced by the work of Israel Kalman, a school psychologist who offers advice on defusing bullying situations.

Students can learn to ignore teasing and criticism, which will remain a critical skill for the rest of their life, Larsen said.

"If kids need to depend on the schools to get rid of bullies, they're likely to stay victims for a long time," he said. "In contrast, 'victim-proofing' teaches kids not to be victims."

On Monday, the House Education Committee reviewed an anti-bullying bill that has already been approved by the Senate. The committee took no action on the measure. Senators are considering a similar bill that the House has endorsed.

Larsen has made similar arguments at other hearings on anti-bullying legislation. His views have drawn strong reactions from people who believe Larsen's philosophy blames the victim and accepts the problem without trying to change it.

"I felt like standing up and yelling, 'Yeah, bullying has always been there, but does that mean we have to let it continue?'" said Rhonda Boehm, whose son, Eric, suffered a brain injury in eighth grade that made a him a target for bullying in high school. "We need to educate in order to make progress."

Larsen, in a Senate floor speech last month, said that "experiencing difficulty and pain is essential for emotional growth."

"If we actually succeed in raising children who never experience any abuse or neglect, they would grow up to be emotional marshmallows, frustrated when they don't get what they want, and unable to handle people mean or inconsiderate towards them," Larsen said.

Both of the pending bills say schools must train teachers on how to stop bullying and offer prevention programs for students, starting in kindergarten.

The bills require school boards to adopt an anti-bullying policy by 2012, which must include a definition of bullying and guidelines for punishment.

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, the chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said schools could easily include Larsen's ideas in developing programs to prevent bullying. Tighter rules are only necessary because bullying has escalated in recent years, she said.

"If bullying hadn't grown to be such a big issue, we could probably take Sen. Larsen's type of stand on the issue," Kelsch said. "But it's gotten out of hand, and there are always going to be some people more vulnerable in life."

Williston middle school teacher Karen Toavs said bullying has become harder to control with the increasing use of social media and text messaging, and it often plays out in front of more people because the technology is so widespread. Students can only ignore so much criticism before it affects their learning, she said.

"I don't think you can just tell kids, 'Get a thick skin,'" said Toavs, who teaches language arts and was named North Dakota's Teacher of the Year in October. "They need more support than that. To them the peer pressure is so much larger than it may seem to us."

Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, said he liked Larsen and Kalman's ideas. He said bullying and hostility happen in every phase of life, and students should learn how to handle the problems early on.

"We need to educate students to stop being victims," Schatz said. "If there is no bullying, and children don't have any resilience to aggression toward them, and later on they do get it, then what happens to them?"

As for Larsen, the criticism sparked by his opposition to the Legislature's anti-bullying bills has offered a chance to put his tactics into action.

"Not being victimized means knowing words will never hurt you," Larsen said. "If somebody's saying words to you, you need to be educated to know that they're only words, and those words aren't who you are. If the words aren't you, they should not matter."

The bills are SB2167 and HB1465.



Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(16) Comments

  1. pudge
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    pudge - March 16, 2011 9:44 am
    I am not sure exactly where some of you are taking this. This is a discussion on bullying. It should not be an open forum for the debate of the UND name. Bullying is real and it should not be the victims who need to deal with it. For those of you that think the Columbine students were not bullied need to become better informed. Bullying is terrible and this bill will force schools to enact a policy, but it also allows the schools immunity if they don't act appropriately. Four years ago a student at Fargo South High school was bullied and they had a policy. They did nothing and the student and his family won a large settlement from the school district. Our politicians are mostly bully's themselves and are not focusing on the victims. You have to be a bully to be a politician or you won't go far.
  2. Tilion
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    Tilion - March 16, 2011 5:45 am
    Larsen seems to believe that it is the victim's fault. He's also a shop teacher. Interesting coincidence in my mind because of my experiences growing up.

    I was a victim of bullying for years in school (in fact, school was a living nightmare for me). The worst "inside the school building" bullying took place in (1) phy ed classes and (2) shop classes. What I found interesting was that in two types of classes some (although not all thank goodness) of the teachers not only ignored the bullying but actively encouraged it or participated in it themselves. As I type this, I wonder what type of shop teacher Larsen really is?

    I am happy that I have no children in Larsen's classes. If I did, they would be pulled out of them before he returns from the legislature because I believe his attitude towards bullying represents a clear and present danger to any child who might be bullied in his classroom. I am equally happy that I have no children in Larsen's school district because it saves me the trouble of appearing before the school board and asking for his dismissal based on his statements in the legislature this session.
  3. mdngal
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    mdngal - March 16, 2011 2:03 am
    I fail to make a connection here between school mascots and bullying. School mascots actually honor whatever they represent, so I don't see how that is bullying. What I am seeing here is the law makers dropping the ball on bullying, asking or expecting the victims of bullying to do their work for them. Yes, if schools and society enforced some of the no tolerance (what a joke) policies already in place, we wouldn't need to strengthen the policies and laws, but they aren't following up. So maybe a little more input from a little higher power would work well for our kids who are victims of bullying. Do ya think?? I repeat, lawmakers are asking the victims of the bullies to stop the bullying. Grow a spine, do your job, and face these bullies that you expect the victims to face. That's why you are elected.
  4. HanpaSunka
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    HanpaSunka - March 15, 2011 4:19 pm
    Thinking about bullying - there's Al Carlson's bill to try to intimidate the Board of Higher Education for standing up for the right thing - treating Indns in ND with respect & not 'forcing' the UND to keep living human beings & out living cultures as mascots as his other bill did. But then, bullying is a way of life at the Legislature. Been there lots, seen that lots. Especially by such as Al Carlson. ain't that sad!
  5. VikingsLost
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    VikingsLost - March 15, 2011 3:13 pm
    Public Schools Use of Native American Names, Symbols, and Mascots


    April 5, 2001

    TO: Presidents of Boards of Education and Superintendents of Public Schools

    FROM: Richard P. Mills

    SUBJECT: Public Schools Use of Native American Names, Symbols, and Mascots

    Some time ago, I directed Department staff to study the use of Native American mascots by public schools. I would like to share with you the results of that work.

    What I conclude
    Our review confirmed that the use of Native American symbols is part of time-honored traditions in some of our communities, and that there are deeply felt, albeit conflicting, ideas about them. Some members of these communities believe that the mascots honor or pay tribute to Native Americans and their culture. However, most Native Americans appear to find the portrayal by others of their treasured cultural and religious symbols disparaging and disrespectful. Many other who have looked at this issue concur.

    After careful though and consideration, I have concluded that the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students. I ask the superintendents and presidents of school boards to lead their communities to a new understanding of this matter. I ask boards to end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical. Some communities have thought about this and are ready to act.

    Others already have acted and I commend them. Yet, in others, more reflection and listening is needed, and so I ask that these discussion begin now. I believe that local leaders can find the right way to inquire into this matter and resolve it locally. Next year I will formally evaluate the progress on this issue.

    Here is my reasoning.

    What we found:
    There has already been extensive statewide discussion of this issue. Some of it is eloquent. We sought the views of local superintendents. Many wrote directly and many others expressed their thoughts through District Superintendents. I have had extended conversations with a few of them. We contacted representatives of Native American communities. We also asked the counsel of District Superintendents. We researched the literature on this subject and read legal documents from other states. We examined New York law, regulation, and Regents policy. In addition, many citizens wrote to us.

    The use of Native American names, symbols, and mascots is such a significant issue that it is being looked at in other states, in professional sports, at the collegiate level, as well as at the local level in some New York school districts. The Society of the Indian Psychologists of the Americas has raised the concern that the use of these mascots and symbols creates an "unwelcome academic environment" for Native American students. Organizations such as the NAACP, and the NEA have issued statements calling for an end to the use of mascots. The U.S. Census 2000 issued a resolution stating that it would not include teams that used these symbols as part of its promotional program. Over the last 30 years, more than 600 colleges, universities and high schools have changed or eliminated their use of Native American mascots.

    For example, the Los Angeles school board required its junior high and high schools to drop Native American-themed names and mascots, and 20 high schools in Wisconsin followed suit. Collegiate institutions such as Miami University of Ohio, St. John's University, Siena College and Stanford University have changed their school logos. In the professional sports world, objections have also arisen, and it is clear that recent expansion teams in professional baseball, hockey, football and basketball have avoided the use of Indian-themed names or mascots.

    In 1999, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division investigated a North Carolina school district to determine if the high school's mascot and nicknames violated Federal Civil Rights Law by creating a racially hostile environment. That investigation was closed after the school district's board of education decided to eliminate the use of Native American religious symbols.

    In August 2000, Attorney General Elliot Spitzer review this issue as it related to a New York State school district. The Attorney General raised serious concerns that certain uses of Native American mascots and symbols could violate the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. His opinion identified many factors that school districts should consider in examining their use of these symbols and mascots, particularly areas such as stereotypical nicknames, images, gestures and use of historical and religious symbols such as feather headdress, face-paint, or totem poles.

    Clearly, many of those who are thinking deeply about this issue are concerned that the use of these symbols should end.

    The argument:
    Schools must provide a safe and supportive environment that promotes achievement of the standards for all children. The use of Native American mascots by some schools can make that school environment seem less safe and supportive to some children, and may send an inappropriate message to children about what is or is not respectful behavior toward others. For that reason we must question the use of such mascots. If children and parents in the school community are offended or made to feel diminished by the school mascot, what school leader or board would not want to know that and correct the situation? School mascots are intended to make a statement about what the the school values. School leaders and communities may not be aware that the statement heard can be contrary to the one intended.

    Here are some thoughts from a student: "Today this school promotes respect, responsibility, compassion, honest, and tolerance. When you use words like these, you need to teach by example. The resigning of this mascot would be a great example of these character education words. I would like to see my brother, sister, and cousins go to a school that shows respect and tolerance for other cultures. I don't want them to feel the confusion that I have felt gong to this school. It has taken me a couple of years to come to understand Native American stereotypes and their effects on me. By keeping [this] mascot the principal lesson the students, staff, and community learn is how to tolerate stereotypes."

    Some argue that such mascots honor Native Americans. Most Native American representatives do not share that view. Some would argue that mascots that are problematic could be made dignified through some state review process. It is difficult to imagine how to craft criteria to make such a judgment process feasible on a statewide basis. Most people would recognize and deplore mocking, distorted representations of minority group members. However, fair-minded people might view these mascots as respectful without realizing that the representation included religious symbols that Native American observers would find distressing when used in that manner.

    Some urge keeping the status quo. That is not realistic either. Collegiate sports and newer professional teams have recognized changing public attitudes and decided not to use Native American mascots. The same changes that affected them will eventually overtake schools. It would be better resolve the matter now. The central role of sports in this issue is advantageous.

    Few areas of American life are as concerned about fairness and respect for individual value and achievement as is the world of sport. We can turn to those values as we think about mascots.

    Some call for an immediate and statewide halt to the use of these mascots. That approach is not advisable. People in many communities haven't had an opportunity to talk about this and listen to one another. There are cherished traditions surrounding many of the mascots. There are even significant costs involved: consider mascots on team uniforms and gymnasium floors, to cite obvious examples. In any case, local remedies should be exhausted first. Many communities have engaged the issue and made changes.

    Many other communities will now do so.

    Still others believe this is a local matter. I cannot agree that it is only a local matter. There is state interest in providing a safe and supportive learning environment for every child. The use of Native American mascots involves a state responsibility as well.

    Here are some questions that might help local communities consider how to approach the issue. I have adapted them from ideas suggested by a New York School Superintendent and they seem like a good place to begin.

    Do Native Americans and non-Native Americans perceive the mascot differently?
    Is there a significant difference between how the mascot may have been intended and how it is interpreted?
    How should an organization respond if its well-intentioned actions unintentionally offend a member of the group's relgious or ethnic beliefs?
    Are there other symbols that represent the school's values that could be used in place of the existing mascot?

    I call upon school leaders in communities that use Native American symbols, names, or mascots to pose these questions to their communities and lead them in a discussion of the right path to take. It is important that our students learn about the diversity of our communities so that they will understand and respect our difference and draw strength from them in becoming good citizens and productive adults. School administrators, staff, parents and community members play a critical role in modeling behavior that celebrates and honors traditions and beliefs of our fellow citizens. As educators, we have an obligation to inform communities so that they might come to understand the pain, however unintentionally inflicted, these symbols cause.

  6. SeriouslyQM
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    SeriouslyQM - March 15, 2011 2:12 pm
    Question for Real World - “Defamation and libel are defined as a FALSE STATEMENT that injures someone's reputation and exposes them to public contempt, hatred, ridicule or condemnation. If the false statement is published in print or through broadcast media, such as radio or TV, it is called libel. If it is only spoken, it is called slander.” http://www.personalinjurylawyer.com/Defamation.cfm

    How do you propose to deal with the kid that is teased because they are the smart, shy, small person in the area. Its not a false statement. They get ridiculed because they don't have to study. Because they don't talk to every single person. Because they are not 6 feet tall. How does that fit into your proposed plan of using defamation of character, etc?
  7. Steven
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    Steven - March 15, 2011 12:23 pm
    Here is one bully fighting technique.

  8. NoDak
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    NoDak - March 15, 2011 12:18 pm
    Yes, bullying has been around a long time and it even happens in adulthood. However, why should the victim always be the one that has to live with it, change, etc. What about the bully? They learned it somewhere and I think "somewhere" often comes down to parents and their actions around their kids. Cell phones, IPods, etc. should not be allowed in schools! And if they are bullying someone through media networks then guess what you get fined, jailed, or whatever but you get punished. I guess the schools once again have to teach right and wrong because parents in general sure don't do it.
  9. Real World
    Report Abuse
    Real World - March 15, 2011 10:38 am
    Since the Westboro/Snyder case I was surprised with the Supreme Court decision. “First Amendment suggests that the Church should be permitted to protest so long as it is not directing its message directly at specific individuals.” I have to agree because if they ruled different, that would leave it to legislation to determine what appropriate speech is.

    Now in the case of bullying, I think our society in general is raising the next pack of Powder Puff Kids or a bunch of soft marshmallows. I do see some of the reasoning for it because of the new ways kids get to one another such as Facebook, text messaging, ect… In the old days once you left school you never heard from the bully till the next day unless they where you neighbor.

    Before passing another law, enforce the ones you have already. I would like the lawmakers to take into account that there are already laws on the books for these kinds of attacks; it is called “Defamation of Character”, “Libel” and “Slander”. If you say those don’t work because you have to prove it, well the same is going to happen with any bullying law.

    What happened to the days when the kids would kick the crap out of the bully in the back lot of the school? Wait, they can’t do that anymore either because they get arrested, expelled, someone would have hurt feelings and get sued. That is why kids bring a guns to school instead, scared of a butt kicking and helpless to standup for themselves. It has nothing to do with getting picked on.

    “Defamation and libel are defined as a false statement that injures someone's reputation and exposes them to public contempt, hatred, ridicule or condemnation. If the false statement is published in print or through broadcast media, such as radio or TV, it is called libel. If it is only spoken, it is called slander.” http://www.personalinjurylawyer.com/Defamation.cfm

  10. cotlod
    Report Abuse
    cotlod - March 15, 2011 9:37 am
    "Remember, the Columbine shooters were also bullied in their past)." - Point to Ponder

    One of the myths about Columbine is that they were bullied. Idiots like Geraldo keep perpetuating it. They were not bullied, they were popular kids. And none of the kids they shot had bullied them.
  11. SeriouslyQM
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    SeriouslyQM - March 15, 2011 8:46 am
    I agree that people who are bullied need support and education but they should not have to deal with this crap from people who have not learned how to be respectful and treat people decently. They should not have to be told..."this happens, just put it out of your mind." They should be thinking about their class, school work, friends and activities - not who is going to jump them around the corner or slam them on facebook.

    The bullies are the problem and if they cannot act decently, they should be punished and educated and because many of these kids have gotten away with this behavior for years, the parents need to be pulled in and educated as well. 65% of bullies from middle school end up with a criminal charge by 24 years old. These parents may be thinking "that won't be my kid". Is that a risk you want to take?
  12. Point to Ponder
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    Point to Ponder - March 15, 2011 8:23 am
    You're right Sen. Larsen! Kids, if you're being bullied, take care of it yourself. Bring a gun to school, put the barrel up to the bully's face and BAMMO! After all, the Republicans want everyone carrying guns anyways, right? Just buck up and take care of it yourself. Sticks and stones make break my bones but 9mm will end you. (BTW, I'm being sarcastic, but this scenario could turn into a real situation real fast. Remember, the Columbine shooters were also bullied in their past).
  13. mdngal
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    mdngal - March 15, 2011 1:07 am
    I agree, teach kids to find ways to cope with bullying, but that shouldn't be the whole program, only part of it. The bigger part is teaching kids NOT to bully! If we put the burden of controling bullying on the victims, the bully wins, as usual. Why are people so afraid to stand up to these bullies? I don't agree that kids who are not exposed to this type of thing will grow up "marshmallows". I don't think growing up includes being diminished, harrassed, embarrassed, threatened, or living in fear. There's plenty of disappointments in life to teach kids to grow up, they don't need to be bullied to be a better adult. Ask adults who were bullied. Again, the bully creates the problem and the victim is supposed to take care of it. So, we are teaching our kids that the ones who do wrong can continue to do wrong, and ones suffering carry the burden and the consequences for the choices the bullies make. That just doesn't make sense to me. If our laws don't protect our kids and do everything to offer them a comfortable and secure school environment, who will protect them? A dad tried in Florida and look what happened to him? Don't we owe our kids more than sweeping this problem under the rug because it has gotten so out of hand no one wants to tackle it?
  14. Florence
    Report Abuse
    Florence - March 14, 2011 6:07 pm
    The lawmakers need to drive to Wachter Middle School and see how they handle bullying. The administrators there are awesome. They DO NOT tolerate bullying and immediately address it and get to the bottom of it.

    BHS on the other hand is a pathetic excuse of a school in this area. They do NOTHING. NOTHING. Kids can and do get away with anything there. Even to the extent of sniffing duster in CLASS.

    Lawmakers - go take some lessons at Wachter before you decide how to best write this bill.
  15. SHOON-kah
    Report Abuse
    SHOON-kah - March 14, 2011 3:17 pm
    Pass a public flogging law. It these big shot guys and gals can dish out this bullying crap then they are tough enough to be flogged publicly. It wouldn't take long and these people would get the message.

    Does this sound animalistic--maybe? But it is time to trim the tail feathers on these bullies because it is only going to get worse. If you agree that is fine and if you disagree that is fine also.

  16. Jbckost
    Report Abuse
    Jbckost - March 14, 2011 2:37 pm
    Bullying is real and it affects more people than we can imagine. Not just kids. Everyone should be trained on how to identify, report and deal with the problem. The "bystanders" are often as guilty as the person who is considered the bully. Don't sweep it under the rug. Make a bullying/harassment policy in your schools. Lives can depend on it.
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