In a controversial April 11 decision, Governor Mark Dayton signed a new anti-bullying law into place that would create new standards to protect students from harassment and bullying in schools. In the wake of former Governor Tim Pawlenty’s anti-bullying veto in 2009, the law has been hotly contested in both the Minnesota House and Senate for almost two years.
Minnesota’s previous anti-bullying law was considered one of the weakest in the nation. Following numerous suicides and reports of bullying in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, a new wave of activism developed around the bill over the past two years. The new Safe and Supportive Schools Act will update old bullying standards by creating a one million dollar fund to hire employees and train staff for bullying prevention. The fund will also help implement the law quickly and efficiently.
The law will enumerate specific definitions for bullying and intimidation and create specific protections for students deemed most likely to be harassed. These students are defined as those who are likely to be bullied because of a disability, religion, real or perceived race, sexual orientation, gender identity and more.
Despite its proposed sweeping changes, supporters of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act argue that there are still clear lapses within the fine print of the law. The Minnesota School Boards Association secured a provision that would allow school districts to have flexibility in developing their own policy. This would not require them to record data or adhere to the anti-bullying provisions set in place by other districts in the state.
Despite fervent opposition by critics who view the law as inherently anti-parenting and financially unrealistic to implement, the law seeks to improve anti-bullying rhetoric in schools throughout Minnesota and protect students from torment and harassment.
Macalester’s MPIRG chapter led the school’s involvement in the effort to pass the bill. MPIRG leaders Amy McMeeking ’16 and Andy Timm ’14 attended a rally at the capital with other Macalester students in early March and met with legislators to talk about the bill.
“The importance of the law for me was for younger students. I think it’s an extremely important thing to feel safe in schools. I know plenty of people that were bullied in school and it truly just destroys people’s experiences,” McMeeking said.