Next session, it's expected that the Democrats will take up the "Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act," better known as the bullying bill. The bill passed the House last session, but was never passed by the Senate.
Statistically, cases of bullying in our schools have dropped precipitously over the past decade by all objective measures. But this bill is less about bullying and more about increasing power and bureaucracy at the Department of Education, and pushing an unfunded mandate on our schools. I wanted to share with you some facts you probably didn't know about this bill and its impacts here in Minnesota.
1.) All school districts already have bullying policies in effect.
The notion that there are schools that 'allow' bullying is foolish. All school districts in Minnesota are already required by law to have an anti-bullying policy in place. This bill is effectively a one-size-fits-all approach that requires schools to hire additional staff to do additional work, taking much-needed dollars out of the classroom and growing the Department of Education bureaucracy.
2.) The bill is an unfunded mandate on our schools
The Minnesota Office of Management and Budget (MMB) estimates that the bill that passed last session would cost schools about $40-50 million dollars every two years to implement. The reason? Each school would be required to hire a staff member to handle all bullying reports, and compile and send that information to the School Climate Council.
3.) The School Climate Council is an unelected 24-member board
The bullying bill creates a 24-member unelected board of bureaucrats that will craft bullying policies that will apply to all Minnesota schools, rather than allowing for local control.
4.) All volunteers must undergo anti-bullying training
Under this law, all school volunteers must undergo mandatory training to comply with the new state law requirements. If you want to volunteer to work the concession stand at your child's football game, you must undergo anti-bullying training. The assumption seems to be that parents and volunteers are somehow unable to recognize or respond to bullying on their own, and must undergo state-mandated training.
5.) Parents may not be required to be notified
It will be important to keep an eye next session on whether Democrats include what's called a presumption of notification. The version passed by the House presumes parental notification consistent with current law, but that provision was ultimately stripped out in the Senate bill.
If the parental notification is stripped out, if your child is accused of bullying, there would be no requirement that you be notified. This is yet another outrageous example of Democrats believing that government knows how to teach children better than parents and families. This could be perhaps the most egregious aspect of this bill. If a student is legitimately bullying another child, parents and teachers are far and away the best way to address the issue, not some bureaucrat.
6.) It creates a bullying database
This bill creates a bullying database. One insensitive comment by a child in fourth grade has the chance to follow them for the rest of their school career, potentially impacting their ability to get into college or receive a scholarship--and the parents would never know, because they aren't required to be informed. While the data available at the state level would merely be summary data, each school would maintain, as required by the bill, individual information at the school level.
7.) Bullying definitions lack clarity
Students come from a wide variety of faiths, cultures, and backgrounds. What may be an honest expression of a religious or cultural belief from one child may be seen as offensive to another child. For instance, if a child raised in a Christian household states that they believe marriage is between one man and one woman, it may result in another child taking offense to that, and could be filed as a bullying complaint.
There is no reason any child should be bullied for their beliefs, no matter what they are. It's tragic any time a student comes home in tears, or feels unwelcome in school. Schools should absolutely be a place that is free of fear and persecution.
However this bill will not alleviate the problem. We must empower parents and teachers to create an environment of acceptance where bullying isn't tolerated, rather than a one-size-fits-all unfunded mandate that will do little to address the real problems that cause bullying.
I will keep you up to date on this bill and its progress next session, which begins in February.