Anti-bullying legislation needed

To the editor:

Supporters of the “Safe and Supportive Minnesota Act,” House File 826, Senate File 783 include a coalition of more than 120 organizations who represent tens of thousands of Minnesotans from across the state who want to see it passed now to protect all students.

Some opponents of the bill have made false claims that school districts will lose local control and that the bill will repeal all policies currently in place.

This is not true.

The bill does not mandate that a statewide, one-size-fits-all bullying policy be applied. If passed, school districts will have the flexibility to develop their own policy in a way that fits their schools, parents, and the community when developing policies on bullying prevention.

The “Safe and Supportive Minnesota Act,” (HF 826), (SF 783) does model many of the recommendations of the 2012 Governor’s Task Force. It defines bullying, harassment and intimidation. It enumerates protections for students most likely to be targets of bullying and harassment. It requires that policies include a procedure for handling prohibited conduct as well as training on bullying prevention and intervention for all staff and volunteers who work with students.

The current anti-bullying statute states, “Each school board shall adopt a written policy prohibiting intimidation and bullying of any student. The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use.”

As you can clearly see, the current statue does nothing to define bullying, harassment or intimidation. Nor does it provide for policies to include a procedure for handling prohibited conduct or training on bullying prevention and intervention for all staff and volunteers who work with students.

This is not about how many words are in a bill, but rather the content or lack of content, that should establish the merit and value of a bill. Ask yourself if you would find it difficult to address bullying, harassment or intimidation without a clear definition and I believe you find the answer to be yes.

Minnesota is one of just three states to prohibit bullying without defining it. Researchers note a statewide definition is crucial, given the fact that bullying means different things to different people.

A similar bill titled “Safe Schools for All” was first introduced in the 2009 legislative session and subsequently was passed by a significant margin in both legislative bodies.

The House of Representatives passed it with a 95-39 vote and the Minnesota Senate by a 46-8 vote. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill.

You can show your support for the passage of this comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in Minnesota by contacting your legislators and expressing your support to strengthen Minnesota’s anti-bullying law. As an organization or an individual you can join the Minnesota Safe Schools for All Coalition by contacting Michelle Dibblee, mdibblee@outfront.org. The Coalition believes that all students should be safe from bullying and harassment at school.

Janice Knieff

Marshall