An anti-bullying bill in the throngs of the state legislature in Minnesota recently passed a major hurdle. The Minnesota House approved the bill designed to strengthen schools’ responses to bullying, in a vote that mostly ran along party lines. While many applaud this step forward as a way to more effectively protect children from damaging behavior in school, others have voiced concern that state lawmakers are overstretching their reach to the public school system.
About the Bill
According to TwinCities.com, the new anti-bullying bill was introduced by House representative Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis). Davnie says that the bill is necessary because the current 37-word anti-bullying law for the state is inadequate in protecting bullied victims. Davnie asserts that if his bill is passed, it would take Minnesota from being one of the weakest states in the country on bullying to “instead, being a leader in building safe and supportive school climates for all students.”
One of the most important features of the bill, according to a report at Minnesota Public Radio, is the fact that it defines what bullying is. Davnie explains, “It established clear definitions of bullying, cyber-bullying, harassment, and intimidation, and then sets a high bar for school involvement.”
This video from Minnesota Public Radio examines the issue of bullying in Minnesota public schools.
In the new bill, bullying is identified as any word or action that “disrupts a student’s education.” It also lists bullying based on student race, sexual identity, disability or social status. If the bill passes, school employees will be required to attend training that teaches them how to identify bullies and how to prevent bullying behavior.
School districts would also face additional reporting requirements with detailed descriptions of bullying incidents. All formal complaints regarding bullying activity would need to be investigated. A statewide school climate center would be responsible for ensuring reporting and training occurred on schedule. Training for teachers and staff would become an ongoing part of professional development programs.
Why it’s Needed
Those in support of the new bill say a stronger law is needed to protect students from bullying in Minnesota schools. Current law requires all schools to have policies involving bullying, but it does not specify what those guidelines should look like. Some who have come out in support of the bill are former and current students from Minnesota schools who have been victims of bullying.
One of these students, now 10, began experiencing bullying behavior from classmates in the second grade, according to the Star Tribune. His mother moved him to another school after the charter school where he was enrolled told the mother it had no list of procedures for bullying. Another student who testified said she dropped out of high school before earning her diploma due to bullying. The bisexual student called the harassment “relentless,” and said the principal responded by telling her to “lay low,” rather than taking up the problem with those responsible for the bullying behavior.
This video reports on the Minnesota Safe Schools For All Act.
Another mother from Kenyon, Minnesota, said her high school son committed suicide because of “relentless” bullying. She told the House that she believes her son would still “be here” if this bullying law had been in effect in 2006, the year he took his own life. She thinks a new law gives schools the tools and guidelines necessary to address bullying more effectively.
Opposition to the Bill
While many believe the bill is necessary to ensure schools properly address bullying issues, others have voiced concern that this bill gives state lawmakers too much control over local school districts. Representative Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) told House members, “This is an overreach. This is going too far. We have a succinct law in place right now that allows for local control. We have effective teachers, effective administrators who are following the law.”
Cost is another concern of some lawmakers. The Minnesota Management and Budget Office estimates the new requirements will cost school districts around $20 million annually. Some opposed to the bill believe the cost would end up even higher, while supporters say the requirements will actually cost districts much less.
“Please think twice before you vote for another unfunded mandate in our schools,” Kelby Woodward (R-Belle Plaine) told his fellow members in the House. “We’re putting our school districts in a very tough spot here by saying, ‘You’ve got to do this but yet we’re not going to fund it,’” Woodward added.
This video discusses the proposed anti-bullying legislation in Minnesota.
Some private schools, particularly parochial schools are also voicing opposition to the new law. The MinnPost reports that Catholic leaders in the state are urging parishioners to call on state lawmakers to vote the bill down. Religious leaders are warning that the new law would unfairly discriminate against parents and students who oppose same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights based on biblical principles.
“The bill’s proponents want to require private schools to follow the mandates of the law as well,” an action statement from the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network was quoted as saying in the MinnPost. “If a Catholic school refuses to comply, its students could lose their pupil aid, such as textbooks, school nurses and transportation.”
While the bill continues to be hotly debated in Minnesota, many eyes are on the state to see where the new bullying law ends up. Will the state set a precedent for the rest of the country by requiring school districts to abide by a statewide law in terms of how they address bullying? Or will Minnesota vote to continue to give the authority in determining how bullying issues are handled to local school districts? Time will tell whether this bill will take hold in the state’s Senate in upcoming weeks.
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