Stalled bill targeting bullying to return next legislative session
Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, December 9, 2013 – Both sides of the debate over whether Minnesota needs to rewrite its school bullying law said Monday they would redouble their efforts when lawmakers return to the Capitol in February.
Supporters of legislation that stalled in the DFL-controlled Legislature last session said the current law, at 37 words, doesn’t do enough to protect students from bullying. They said the new law would better define bullying, better protect students who are most likely to be bullied and provide better training for educators to spot and respond to bullying.
“The bottom line is, Minnesota educators know students learn better when they feel safe in their schools,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union.
Specht spoke at a rally at Central High School in St. Paul organized by Education Minnesota and OutFront Minnesota, an advocate for gay, lesbian and transgender people. The groups are two of more than 100 organizations that make up the Safe Schools for All Coalition, which held events and petition drives Monday urging lawmakers to pass the bullying bill.
The coalition is going to run into opposition from Republican lawmakers and some faith-based groups who contend the legislation is expensive, unnecessary and designed to protect certain groups of students more than others.
Opponents of the bill say Minnesota already has enough rules to protect students from bullying. State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, the assistant minority leader, said the bill takes control away from local educators and adds layers of expensive bureaucracy.
“I understand what it’s like to be bullied, and we are committed to stopping it,” said Chamberlain, who added he experienced bullying as a student. “This bill goes much too far, is much too vague and requires we spend too much money — to accomplish what, I don’t know. Schools are already doing a great job.”
The legislation grew out of recommendations from a task force Gov. Mark Dayton created in 2012. A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Education found Minnesota has one of the nation’s weakest bullying laws.
Earlier this year, the bullying bill passed several legislative hurdles, but failed to receive a vote in the Senate on the final night of the 2013 legislative session. Researchers estimate implementing the legislation statewide could cost between $5 million and $20 million.
On Monday, Central High senior Della Kurzer-Zlotnick told the crowd of supporters why she believes lawmakers should pass the legislation. As a seventh-grader Kurzer-Zlotnick said she was bullied because her parents are lesbians.
“I don’t think bullying is an adolescent milestone or a part of growing up,” she said. “I think it’s an epidemic.”
The Minnesota Family Council and other faith-based groups opposed the bill and fought to exempt private schools from the law last legislative session.
Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said they support strengthening anti-bullying laws, but not the current bill.
“We don’t support the Safe and Supportive Schools Act for many reasons, including that it seems designed primarily to impose on parents and children an ideological agenda rather than protect all kids from bullying,” Adkins wrote in an email.