Updated: 04/04/2014 7:21 AM KSTP.com By: Jennie Olson
Minnesota State Capitol
A controversial anti-bullying bill passed in the Senate on Thursday evening, after six hours of passionate debate with a vote of 36-31.
"I believe so strongly that this bill will protect and make life better for kids like him," said Jessica Banks, mother of a child who was bullied because of a disability, right after the Senate passed the bill.
The goal of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act is to protect all children from bullying and to make schools safer. But opponents say plans to strengthen it would be costly and difficult for schools to enforce.
Opponents are concerned about the bill’s "presumption" that a school will notify the parent of bullying incidents -- there is no explicit requirement that parents be notified of all bullying incidents. The bill also specifically forbids bullying based on race, religion, physical appearance, sexual orientation, and several other categories, and some say it should be more generic and all-encompassing. Other opponents also say the bill would strip school districts of their independence, and take control away from parents.
"No one else is going to protect a child like a parent will, and so I am painfully disappointed at our failure today to recognize the essential role that parents play," Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said.
"To believe we possess the collective knowledge and wisdom to fix human nature and all the problems that we face with some language in a statute is beyond my belief," Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said.
Supporters say those concerns are unfounded. They point to Minnesota's current bullying law -- one of the nation's weakest, and just 37 words long -- and say the bill would turn Minnesota's law into one of the strongest. They argue the bill provides a clear definition of bullying, training for students and staff, and specific procedures to follow when bullying occurs.
“There are presently only 37 words in Minnesota Statutes to protect our schoolchildren from the ever-increasing dangers of bullying," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement. "I support the stronger protections in the anti-bullying bill, which just passed the Minnesota Senate, to provide local school districts with the guidance and support they need to make it very clear that bullying will not be allowed in our schools."
Education Minnesota President Denise Specht released the following statement Thursday in response to the state Senate passing the Safe and Supportive Schools Act:
"The Minnesota Senate took a huge step today to address bullying in our schools. The Safe and Supportive Schools Act will give educators the tools they need to better help their students. The bill includes guidelines for school staff to follow when bullying incidents are reported. And it includes money for training and resources for educators on bullying prevention and intervention.
Teachers know students do better when they are in class, focused and learning. They can’t do that if they’re afraid to come to school."
If passed again by the House and approved by Gov. Mark Dayton, it would replace a statute that requires school districts to have a bullying policy but lacks any details on what the policy should contain.
It was sponsored by state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.
"I'm overcome with happiness -- just a wonderful, wonderful moment," Dibble said right after the vote.