Teachers will make anti-bullying law a priority at Capitol next year

i_heart_safe_schools_cta_bannerAs the 2013 Legislative Session drew to a close in May, supporters of a bill to strengthen Minnesota’s anti-bullying laws made one last push, urging their state senators to vote on the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which had already won approval in the House.

The session gaveled to a close before senators could take that vote, but members of Education Minnesota, the statewide educators’ union, will help kick off a campaign next week to make sure the anti-bullying bill gets a vote in 2014.

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said members have been vocal in support of efforts to prevent bullying in schools, prompting union leaders to declare the bill, which would give Minnesota the nation’s strongest anti-bullying laws, a top priority for the upcoming session.

“Our members know that in order for students to do well, we need safe and welcoming schools,” Specht said. “We’re stepping up our efforts to make sure the bill passes and gets over the finish line.”

That effort kicks off Sunday afternoon with a “call to action” at Minneapolis South High School, where students, parents, educators and community members will unite in support of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. [Click here to view the event page on Facebook.]

On Monday, a national day of action in support of public education, Education Minnesota will co-host a press conference and rally in support of the anti-bullying bill at St. Paul Central High School. [Click here to view the event page on Facebook.]

Having teachers play a visible role in efforts to pass the Safe and Supportive Schools Act is critical, OutFront Minnesota Executive Director Monica Meyer said. Her organization gathered a coalition of supporters to push for new anti-bullying laws in 2009, and it has since attracted more than 100 member organizations, including Education Minnesota and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.

“Teachers are looking at how to be proactive in addressing the bullying they are seeing, and how to create an environment in the schools that will help all students thrive,” Meyer said.

In a 2010 survey of Minnesota students, 13 percent reported that they were bullied at least monthly. A 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Education rated Minnesota’s anti-bullying law the weakest in the nation.

But parents and teachers don’t need statistics to know bullying is a problem.

“We know anecdotally, and we hear stories everyday from students and parents and teachers who see firsthand the bullying that exists,” Meyer said. “There’s a real hunger out there from Minnesotans to have the Legislature pass something that’s proactive about making our schools safe.”

Supporters say the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, co-authored by Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Jim Davnie, would replace the weakest anti-bullying law in the country with the strongest.

Instead of leaving bullying policy up to individual school districts, the bill would establish uniform policies in accordance with the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Doing so would protect all students, Meyer said, from discrimination or harassment “on the basis of anything from race, ethnicity or disability to immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity or religious beliefs.”

“It’s a comprehensive policy,” Meyer added. “You really know that a lot of students can see themselves in it. We want to make sure they know that they are protected.”

The bill also would provide training opportunities, a key provision for educators.

“It speaks to training and resources for school staff, students and volunteers around bullying prevention and intervention,” she said.

Teachers plan to echo events in the metro Sunday and Monday across Greater Minnesota, Specht added. Education Minnesota members will be circulating petitions and having conversations with their school board members and lawmakers before the Legislature reconvenes Feb. 25.

“We’re going to show lawmakers how broad based the support is for passing this legislation,” Meyer said.

[Click here to sign a petition showing your support for safe schools!]

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