Bill tackles K-12 bullying

The bill would protect students from bullying at school and online.

Mitchell Yurkowitz

A proposal that aims to decrease bullying in Minnesota schools will get its start at the Capitol on Wednesday.

OutFront Minnesota and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, leaders in last year’s effort to legalize same-sex marriage, are collaborating to pass a bill this session that would require school districts to develop and enforce a plan to alleviate bullying.

“We know that bullying has pretty negative and severe consequences and a real effect in young people’s lives,” Dibble said. “We also know something can be done about it.”

The proposal, known as the “Safe and Supportive Schools Act,” lists more than 20 specific characteristics, including race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, in hopes of protecting those students from bullying on school grounds and online.

Bill supporters say it’s important for schools to have the resources to stop bullying, while opponents say it puts unnecessary restrictions on schools and classifies students in a harmful way.

“The bill calls out special classifications of students that they want to give an extra level of protection of bullying to,” said Autumn Leva, Minnesota Family Council spokeswoman. “We need to be addressing bullying for every student.”

University of Minnesota political science sophomore Gabe Aderhold, who knew many students in high school who were bullied for being gay, said he plans to work with OutFront this session to convince legislators that it’s crucial that the bill passes.

After helping lead the push to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota, OutFront repurposed itself this session to push the anti-bullying bill.

“Students that are bullied are at a significant disadvantage, and it affects them academically,” said Nicque Mabrey, an associate director at OutFront. “They are scared in school, and that is not an environment for any student to be learning in.”

If the bill passes and a school chooses not to comply, the Office of the Commissioner in the Minnesota Department of Education can reduce or withhold state aid to the school’s district.

Proponents of the legislation have pushed similar bills in the past but have faced obstacles such as lack of legislative support and time restrictions. In 2009, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Dibble said he’s confident the bill will have strong support this session, adding that legislators agree it’s important for Minnesota students to feel safe going to school.

“We can take significant steps to change the climate in schools to prevent bullying from occurring in the first place,” he said.