Created: 03/01/2013 2:08 PM KSTP.com By: Leslie Dyste
A Minnesota House committee has given its initial backing to a bill meant to crack down on bullying in schools.
The House Education Policy Committee approved the bill Thursday night. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that it would require all school districts to enact their own bullying prevention policies.
It also gives the state Department of Education $1 million in state funds to help schools formulate those policies.
The bill's backers include educators, pediatricians, gay rights activists and advocates for the disabled. Students who have been bullied testified that better policies are needed to make sure future students don't suffer the same fate.
"I think it would send a message to students and help them feel like they're important and cared about," said Kyrstin Schuette, a former Anoka High School student who said a former classmate once stole her cellphone and sent private photos of Schuette and her girlfriend to other students. "And it gives teachers and parents the tools and resources to effectively handle the situations."
Some Republican lawmakers suggested the policies would simply mean more bureaucracy with little guarantee of reducing bullying. And conservative activists said they worried that such policies could impose values and beliefs, particularly concerning homosexuality and family structure, which some parents disagree with. Private schools that accept state funds would also have to adhere to the law.
"I believe it focuses not on the behavior of the bully, but diversity and changing beliefs and attitudes in our schools," said Tom Prichard, president of the conservative Minnesota Family Council, which has led the charge against gay marriage in the state.
The legislation, sponsored by Minneapolis Democratic Rep. Jim Davnie, would require school districts to work with students and parents on the bullying prevention policies. Schools would have to investigate complaints of bullying and keep detailed records of them.
Schuette was one of six students who filed a 2011 federal lawsuit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District saying they had been bullied because of perceptions about their sexuality. The suit, which garnered national attention, was settled last year with the district forced to adopt practices aimed at making its schools more gay-friendly and free of harassment.
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