Last Wednesday, April 9, 2014, Governor Mark Dayton signed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act at the Capital in St. Paul. The law, which has been a source of controversy for lack of bipartisan support, toughens the current state statute on bullying in schools by providing school districts with a clear-cut definition of bullying, requirements regarding bullying data collection, and teacher and student resources.
The new law, which has fervent supporters and detractors, will become effective starting in the 2014-2015 school year.
“Bullying atrocities have cost some people their lives,” Dayton said after he signed the bill into law. “What could be more severe than depriving somebody the life they have been given — liberty and the pursuit of happiness requires that you feel good about yourself, for being who you are.”
The law, which was authored by Minnesota state Senator Scott Dibble and state Representative Jim Davnie, replaces the former 37-word state statute that required school districts to have a policy on bullying, but did not specify what the policy should include. Like many other school districts in the state, Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) currently uses — and will continue to use until the 2014-2015 school year — the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) Bullying Prohibition Policy. While the MSBA policy does define bullying and provides guidelines on how district officials should handle bullying, it does not require data collection of bullying incidents, which is a large component of the new law.
“We’ve got a good policy [currently],” WAPS superintendent Scott Hannon remarked in an interview prior to the passing of the anti-bullying bill. “What more are they going to add that we don’t have already?”
The new law also expands on the topic of cyberbullying and bullying through social media, which, in the past few years, has become increasingly common. The MSBA policy, which was last updated in 2010, does mention online bullying, but not to the extent the new law does. In the same interview, when asked about cyberbullying, Hannon said that he has not seen much cyberbullying within the district.
“Fortunately, not a lot of it,” he explained. “We deal with it when we know about it. [When the cyberbullying] happens outside of school, it can be hard to deal with. If it’s done on our computers and it is threatening kids in school, we certainly deal with it. We hope that parents, too, are vigilant about how their kids are using those types of devices.”
Not supported by everyone
For those who oppose the new law, some have said that it will cost the state and local districts millions of dollars to implement all of the requirements it sets forth. Others are concerned that it favors some students over others. A section in the new law states that “intimidating, threatening, abusive or harming conduct may involve, but is not limited to, conduct that causes physical harm to a student or a student’s property or causes a student to be in reasonable fear of harm to a person or property,” and goes on to indicate that “intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harassing conduct that is directed at a student or students based on a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A, the Minnesota Human Rights Act.”
“All students being protected isn’t sufficient,” Child Protection League Action’s Michele Lentz said in a statement after the bill was passed in the Minnesota Senate. “They must go on to itemize groups, when the only purpose for naming groups is to give special attention to some over others.”