The legislative push to end bullying in our schools

By KBJR News 1

February 12, 2014 Updated Feb 12, 2014 at 11:03 AM CDT

St. Paul, MN (NNCNOW.com) - The push to curb bullying in Minnesota heads back to St. Paul later this month. It comes in the form of a bill known as the "Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act."

From the classroom to the state capitol, the current anti-bullying law in Minnesota has been called one of the weakest anti-bullying laws in the US.

It's spelled out in less than a paragraph and if you ask high school senior Elise Coffin, it doesn't get to the root of the real problem.

"A lot of people think it's just a part of growing up, and it's not. Because no kid should have to deal with all of that inside their head and everything that happens outside," Coffin said.

Elise is strong supporter of a proposal aiming to strengthen the state's bullying laws. She says what's currently happening inside her school's hallways is not OK.

"I think if we start young enough and teach kids this isn't OK and something needs to happen and give our teachers and administrators tools and resources they need to fight against it" It'll be a generational thing," Coffin said.

The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, co-authored by Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), would provide a state model policy on bullying prevention and require every school district to establish its own policies.

It would offer protection for students who are most likely to be bullied or harassed and would require schools to designate one person in the building to take formal complaints.

"I would like to see a clear statement against bullying and a clear effort to communicate the anti-bullying policies, that schools have, to all the affected members of the community; kids, teachers and to administrators and the like," Sen. Dibble said.

The bill would also create a one stop shop call center that provides resources for students, their parents and teachers.

It's the same bill that was moving through the legislature last year session, but died when it was dropped on the Senate Floor. Critics then said the legislation would create administrative issues for school districts and would do little to curb the problem.

"Our concern is that the bill really goes beyond addressing the bad behavior of bullying to trying to reeducate and shape the thinking of 10 year old children on sexuality and family structure," Tom Prichard with the Minnesota Family Council said during the 2013 legislative session.

Funding was, and remains, another concern. The Minnesota Family Council says the act would be an unfunded mandate to the tune of $20 million dollars a year, leaving cash-strapped school districts to have to pay for new policies.

Sen. Dibble says that's not true because the outcomes would pay for themselves.

"There is a lot of savings to be derived if we address bullying well. Kids will be healthier, they'll be attending school, their academic outcomes will be much, much better, and schools will be removed from a lot of exposure to legal liability because they'll be taking care of kids," Sen. Dibble said.

The bill will go first to the Senate Finance Committee once the legislative session gets underway on February 25th.

Written by Kevin Jacobsen
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