A bill that would have strengthened schools’ responsibility to intervene and prevent bullying was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
In his veto message, the governor called the bill “duplicative of current law.” School boards are already required to adopt written sexual, religious and racial harassment and violence policies that conform to the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) and Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls), the bill’s original version would have listed characteristics of people who could be targets of bullies, including disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or association with others with those characteristics. It would have required school boards to provide training for teachers about how to intervene and prevent bullying, intimidation, violence and other forms of harassment including by electronic means such as social networking sites or text messaging.
“It would be unfortunate if we had adult staff in our school systems who turned a blind eye and didn’t defend our school children,” said Rep. Ron Shimanski (R-Silver Lake). He suggested schools teach the “Golden Rule” in the early grades to promote respectful behavior.
Others noted that casualties can result from adults’ ignorance of how to handle bullies.
“You can hardly pick up a magazine these days without pictures of junior high students who have experienced (bullying) or committed suicide because others don’t recognize what bullying is,” said Rep. Sandra Peterson (DFL-New Hope).
Davnie said research indicates that when policies clearly identify the groups that could be targets, the policy is more likely to be better enforced.
Pawlenty wrote that he agreed with the goal of the bill, adding that “bullying is a serious issue that must be vigilantly monitored, prevented, and addressed by school administration and staff.” He has instructed the education commissioner to review the model policy required by state law and to contact school districts “to ensure they are meeting the requirements of Minnesota law relating to intimidation and bullying” and to encourage them “to revisit” how policies are enforced.
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