Anti-bullying measures approved, signed into law

The start of Minnesota’s 2014-2015 academic year means the full implementation of the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools act. Eleven hours of floor debate ended early in the morning April 9 as the House voted 69-63 to approve the bill. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law on the capitol steps late that afternoon. It had won approval earlier from the Senate.

Parts of the law go into effective immediately. The rest goes into effect July 1. The measure creates stronger protections for all students from bullying, including students with disabilities. It will also give parents, students, and teachers more tools to deal more effectively with bullying incidents that occur.

Kurt Rutzen, Bridget Siljander and Imani Cruzen showed their support for anti bullying legislation. Photo courtesy of The Arc Minnesota
Kurt Rutzen, Bridget Siljander and Imani Cruzen showed their support for anti bullying legislation. Photo courtesy of The Arc Minnesota

Anti-bullying legislation has been a focus at the capitol for years. Several disability advocacy groups were part of the Safe Schools for All Coalition, which represented more than 140 organizations statewide. Groups included The Arc Minnesota, The Arc Greater Twin Cities, PACER, Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance.

Several disability advocacy groups made passage of the legislation one of their top priorities for the 2014 session. Disability advocates were among the many supporters who attended Senate hearings, spoke at rallies at the capitol and visited key legislators to ensure the bill received the floor votes needed.

Students with disabilities are twice as likely to be bullied as those without disabilities. While some school districts made changes in recent year to programs and policies against bullying, many teachers, parents and students in other districts were still looking for and calling for guidance and resources on how to make their schools safer for all students.

Despite its lengthy floor debate, the House took the Senate’s version of the bill and approved it without changes. Before it passed the Senate, the bill did see several changes. Many of these revisions were agreed to by the bill’s chief Senate author, Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis). Dibble and Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) worked with school administrators on changes that would implement the bill more effectively once it became law, without weakening the bill’s protections.

Some changes were made to mollify foes, such as removing a volunteer training requirement and not having stringent reporting requirements.

Opponents of the law contended it would add costs for schools, take away local control and in the case of some parochial schools, would impose values contrary to those of a particular faith. Another issue is costs of implementation, which have been estimated at $5 to $25 million. Districts will not have to adopt the state’s model policy unless they decline to craft one of their own. Many school districts already have anti-bullying policies in place. The law requires that school districts track and investigate cases of bullying and do more to train faculty and staff on preventative measures.

Information from The Arc Minnesota was used I this article.