Minn. Senate passes anti-bullying bill by 5-vote margin - KMSP-TV

Minn. Senate passes anti-bullying bill by 5-vote margin

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

On Thursday night, the legislation that has come to be known as the "bullying bill" narrowly passed a vote in the Minnesota Senate with every Republican and three Democrats voting against.

The Safe and Supportive Schools Act more clearly defines bullying and cyber-bullying, and it will require the commissioner of education to design a model state policy.

"There are presently only 37 words in Minnesota statutes to protect our schoolchildren from the ever-increasing dangers of bullying. 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," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement following the vote.

Yet, Senate Republicans -- all of whom voted against the measure -- argue the bill removes local control from schools.

"We're going to send a message to the people in our communities that they can't be trusted with the management of their schools," Minority Leader David Hann argued. "They have to rely on bureaucracy, an unelected bureaucracy to do it."

The bill's chief author in the Senate vehemently disagreed with that characterization, however, and insisted that the law has always been intended to ensure the safety and security of all students.

"I'm glad so many of you talked with a lot of superintendents and school board members, but you know who we talked to? I didn't hear anyone talking about sitting down with literally dozens of kids," Dibble said.

Nevertheless, the 36-31 vote taken just before 6 p.m. clears the way to strengthen what has been called the weakest anti-bullying policy in the country.

In 2012, Dayton established a task force to focus on bullying prevention and provide recommendations. Last year, those recommendations were crafted into a bill that cleared the House, but stalled in the Senate. Now, the House must take up the measure again.

WHAT DOES THE BILL DO?

Aside from requiring the state's commissioner of Education to design a model policy for districts across the state that will not infringe on the free speech or religious rights of students, the bill will:

- Provide a more comprehensive definition of bullying, cyber-bullying, prohibited conduct and intimidation

- Require districts to develop and maintain local bullying prevention policies

- Set minimum standards for local policies

- Extend anti-bullying policies to extracurricular activities at public schools

- Require strategies for creating positive school environments

- Establish the School Climate Council and School Climate Center to assist with implementation

Private and home schools are exempt from complying with the bill, but charter schools will need to follow the requirements outlined in the bill, and private schools will be encouraged to share their anti-bullying policies and incident summaries.

AMENDMENT AXES REPORTING REQUIREMENT

The bill was amended before its passage, and one of the most significant alterations was the total deletion of a data reporting requirement that would have mandated districts report incidences of bullying.

Several other changes to the bill were introduced, including:

- Schools are now only "encouraged" to include community groups in drafting policies, not required

- Anti-bullying training will not be required for school volunteers

- Annual reviews were removed and replaced with a "cycle consistent with other policies."

- The definition of "harassing" was removed

- Notice of rights and responsibilities for both parents and students is now included

- Districts will not be required to adopt the state model unless they choose not to design their own policies

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