Minnesota’s House and Senate Education Finance committee has passed its Safe and Supportive Schools Bill, putting the state one step closer to having 21 pages of anti-bullying provisions on Minnesota’s books. At present, it has only one law, and at 37 words long is one of the weakest in the country.
The bill would require that schools create detailed policies to crackdown on bullying and protect those who are being victimized; the text of the bill explicitly states that students must be protected from harassment that “relates to the actual or perceived … sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”
Opinion on the bill was sharply divided, with most Democrats for it and most Republicans against, but during the debate in the House, legislators on both sides shared painful stories of their own experiences with bullying.
Despite the common ground, opponents of the bill saw it as an issue that the state should not intrude on, as well as too expensive and something that would only cause more problems. Some legislators spoke of concerns that expression of certain religious or political views would be labeled bullying, and others protested that students might be referred to community resources such as support groups for LGBT youth without the knowledge of their parents or guardians.
Proponents of the bill countered that under current law, school districts’ policies are greatly varied; some may have adequate protections for students at risk, but without a law in place requiring it, many do not.
They stated that the Safe and Supportive Schools Bill would remedy that by requiring schools to spell out what they define as “bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, and intimidation” and providing guidelines to do so, as well as compelling the school to respond appropriately to all involved in each incident.
The bill was written with the help of the Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying, established by Governor Mark Dayton in February 2012; the conclusions in the official report credits testimonies from “students, parents, and citizens who have been impacted by bullying, harassment, and intimidation.”
The Trevor Project’s Government Affairs Director Allison Gill, said “HB 826 is a very strong measure… we’re very supportive of it. This is a bill that is far-reaching in a variety of important areas, from reporting to requiring all public school districts and charter schools to have anti-bullying policies in place.”
An estimation by Minnesota Management and Budget suggested that the new policies could cost up to $19.5 million per year; the House’s education budget does include some funds for such expenses.
After passing the Senate Education Finance committee, the bill is scheduled to move on to the full Finance committee before its final vote.