The Safe Schools for All Coalition was successful in its efforts this session in large part because of the depth and breadth of the coalition. The Safe and Supportive Minnesota School Act was supported by a wide variety of disability advocacy groups, plus other organizations representing numerous other interests in the diverse, 140-member coalition.
The voices from the disability community were certainly not the only ones heard at the capitol and in the media during the Safe Schools debate, but we were an important and essential presence throughout. A number of disability groups made this bill one of their legislative priorities this session, including The Arc Minnesota, The Arc Greater Twin Cities, Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) and PACER. Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, The Youth Legacy Foundation, and the Minnesota State Council on Disability were among those groups also actively backing this effort. Passage of the act was important because of incidents of bullying that targets students with disabilities.
We knew that victory would depend on activity on many fronts:
Grassroots action. Self-advocacy groups, whether made up students or adults, educated themselves on the issue, shared their stories at individual visits with legislators, and joined delegations who met with key legislative leaders like Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. Members of The Arc statewide and other members of MN-CCD made sure this issue was raised in personal visits and e-mails to their state representatives and senators throughout the session.
Media/communications. There was significant disability input on the coalition’s communications team when drafting common messages and talking points. The bullying of students with disabilities was one of the main themes in op-eds published in the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, as well as letters to the editor in Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota newspapers.
The disability community was kept abreast of the progress of the bill through publications like Access Press. Those preparing for the March 18th Disability Day at the Capitol were e-mailed fact sheets and links to YouTube videos that briefed them on the bill and the importance of sharing personal stories about it.
Speaking at public events. The disability perspective was heard at events inside and outside the State Capitol. Self-advocates and disability advocates shared their stories and expertise at legislative hearings on the bill, at the March 3 Safe Schools Rally in the capitol rotunda, at briefings and rallies during the March 18 Disability Day at the Capitol and at school events in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.
Leadership from other members of the coalition–OutFront Minnesota, Education Minnesota, and the Twin Cities chapters of the Federation of Teachers, among them–was a huge factor in making sure the Safe Schools bill became law. The coalition also benefited from the diversity of its supporting agencies across Minnesota representing communities of color, faith-based organizations, medical and mental health professionals, and youth agencies, to name a few.
The depth and breadth of the coalition that helped pass the bill will also be crucial to successfully implementing the law. Disability advocates and other Safe Schools supporters will be at the table to help ensure that the law protects all Minnesota students from bullying and responds effectively to bullying incidents that do occur.
This article was submitted by Mike Gude of The Arc Minnesota, on behalf of the Safe Schools Campaign.