Safe learning environment necessary, but anti-bullying bill wrong approach
Friday, April 18, 2014 6:38 AM
Last week, the Senate passed House File 826, known as the Safe and Supportive Schools Act or anti-bullying bill. This legislation is intended to ensure a safe educational environment for all students. The bill was originally introduced last year, and has since undergone a multitude of changes.
I believe every student deserves to attend a safe and supportive school. I also believe that we need to ensure that all Minnesota schools are safe and foster a healthy student learning environment. As a father of three young boys and as an uncle to six nieces and nephews ranging in age from grade school to middle school, it is important to me that students feel safe at school.
However, I continue to have concerns with provisions in this bill. It adds millions in new costs, and takes away the ability of our local school districts to handle bullying and student safety.
Earlier this session, when this legislation began to move through the Senate, I reached out to school board members and superintendents in the district I represent as well as the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Minnesota School Administrators Association and the Minnesota Rural Educators Association for feedback on this legislation. The concerns I heard over and over were clear: This bill was more of a burden to schools than it was helpful, mainly because this is a tremendous unfunded mandate. The fiscal note for House File 826 projects an annual unfunded cost of $19 million, which would fall squarely on the shoulders of our schools that are already struggling with tight budgets.
Additionally, I have concerns about the creation of the School Climate Council and School Climate Center within the Minnesota Department of Education. Rather than establishing a 23-member leadership council to improve school climate and safety, I continue to hear from school districts that it is best to allow schools to determine and identify their issues with bullying, identify resources and put together a plan of action that addresses their school climate and allow them to implement a plan and monitor progress.
I certainly support strengthening our anti-bullying policies. But rather than implementing a mandated top down statewide policy, I trust in our local principals, teachers, staff, school administrators and school board members to make the best decisions for their schools and community.
While debating this bill on the Senate floor, I supported an amendment to strengthen current anti-bullying laws using a model that is supported by the Minnesota Association of School Boards. That model is patterned after tested legislation that has worked in other states, has received an A++ rating from the national website BullyPolice.org, was referenced by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson as a model to replicate and would not have any cost to our schools. This amendment was a strong approach to putting an end to bullying in our schools, but unfortunately it was voted down.
While some changes were made to make this legislation easier for school administrators to implement, not enough was done to address the concerns of parents, students and schools. All school districts already have strong policies in place to ensure that every student feels safe and valued and my goal is to continuing helping schools create a learning environment that allows their students to do well in school.