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Church's rhetoric does not reflect changes to Safe and Supportive Schools Act

davnie portrait
Rep. Jim Davnie

The recent articles in MinnPost on the Safe and Supportive Schools Act contain inaccuracies that need to be corrected. While the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC) admitted in its April 24 meeting that important revisions have been made to the House version of the bill, MCC's rhetoric does not reflect these changes. 

The Safe and Supportive Schools Act updates the shortest anti-bullying statute in the United States to a comprehensive system that protects all students from abusive behavior, supports staff and volunteers in their efforts to prohibit bullying, and will support improved student achievement. The bill encourages schools to develop programming that teaches students on positive civil discourse, how to address prohibited conduct, and to value diversity. Schools are also encouraged to engage and train students, parents, and the community in fostering a safe and supportive school environment.

The recent article by MinnPost and the response from the MCC include some misleading points. While I recognize that the MCC notes that the House version was updated to address some of their concerns, they still maintain an action alert without updated information and only vaguely mention the House update after laying out complaints that remain in the Senate bill. Throughout the session I have welcomed input from concerned stakeholders, including the MCC, and legal experts on the legal and practical ramifications of the bill — and I've listened.

The current form of the House bill is a product of several revisions to address the concerns of stakeholders and has been fully vetted by the Minnesota Attorney General. And to put to rest any confusion or concern, the Senate bill will be aligned with the House bill. 

Clearly defined, vetted wording

The MCC claims that the definitions for bullying are so vague that it violates First Amendment law. In the Community Voices piece, MCC links to legal analysis that assails the bill on First Amendment grounds based on old versions of the House bill. The current version of the bill clearly defines bullying as intimidating, threatening, abusive behavior, or harassing conduct that: (1) causes physical harm or puts one in reasonable fear of harm; (2) materially and substantially interferes with a student's education opportunities or performance or ability to perform in school; (3) under Minnesota common law, violates a student's reasonable expectation of privacy, defames a student, or constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress against a student; (4) or materially and substantially disrupts the work and discipline of the school. These are constitutionally defined and vetted definitions and are the current definitions in the bill.

The MCC also complains that the bill does not protect all kids because it provides an enumerated list of characteristics. The MCC intentionally misreads all versions of the bill to state that this list is exclusive and not a list of examples of who is protected. All versions contain a version of the following language preceding that list of characteristics: “prohibited conduct may involve, but is not limited to, conduct that is directed at a student or students based on a person's actual or perceived …” This bill provides examples of characteristics to emphasize that all students are protected, not that only certain students are protected. MCC's interpretation of this is disappointing and does a disservice to the judgment of our school boards, administrators, teachers, volunteers, and students.

The MCC also says that the bill applies to private schools, although briefly admitting the House version no longer includes them. The bill did originally apply to private schools. However, members listened carefully to concerned stakeholders and decided that private schools are no longer required to comply with the anti-bullying bill requirements.

No teaching requirement

An article from March quoted by Hawkins in her articles, but not in the MCC commentary, claims that the Safe and Supportive Schools Act will force schools to teach about same-sex marriage. This is not factual. The state does not control individual school curriculums or require schools to teach any specific topics. It does not require schools to teach about traditional marriage, same-sex marriage, 13th century astronomy in Europe, or the 1974 New York Mets. The bill encourages schools to provide programming that teaches students how to improve school climate, value diversity, and address prohibited conduct.

The MCC also claims that the bill will cost schools $26 million a year. While there was a local impact note from the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB), there are serious concerns with their methodology and their results. We believe its estimate does not take into account resources schools already have, savings from initial investments, and the real geographic distribution of students in the state. These are some important factors which, if appropriately addressed, will provide a lower and more accurate cost to local schools. Additionally, the K-12 Education bill passed Tuesday provides $34 million in safe schools funding and $100 million in money set aside for staff development. We are continuing to work with MMB on this issue.

The House version of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act has undergone several revisions to reflect input from many stakeholders over the course of this session. The revised legislation is part of the next generation of education policies, providing a safe and supportive school environment for all students across Minnesota.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, is the chief House author of HF 826, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act.

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Comments (7)

Thanks for the Clarification

Rep Davnie, thanks for the extraordinarily clear description of the bill and its changes. We are fortunate to have representatives so committed to keeping our schools and our students safe. 1974 was not a winning season for the NY Mets, but 2013 can be a winning season for Minnesota students!

Thanks for the Excellent Clarification

But I fear that it will not change the inside-out, upside-down perspective of "conservative" Catholics and other "conservative" Christians that their religious rights are being violated,...

if we do not arrange our entire society and especially our Public Schools systems to reflect their own, and ONLY their own, religious perspectives.

For these severely intellectually-challenged individuals, no one else's religious perspectives (and there are, of course MANY others) can or should be protected.

Conservatives believe they have a right to religious "freedom," but they take that to mean the freedom to force everyone else and every other societal institution to act according to their own "true" beliefs, and to teach nothing that would force them to explain to their own children how and why they disagree.

One would almost think they don't feel able to explain or justify their own faith to their children, or that the believe such explanation is actually impossible.

Meanwhile they feel free to run roughshod over everyone else's freedom of religion while claiming that the rest of us are violating THEIR "freedom of religion" if we expect them to teach their own members to follow the dictates of their own faith in their churches and homes,...

while we do the same from very DIFFERENT perspectives on the Bible, God, faith and life.

Luckily, our nation's founders created a Constitution and Bill or Rights in which "freedoms" included the freedom to disagree,...

and which precluded exactly what our "conservative" friends so desperately want the government to do - ESTABLISH their OWN faith as the only one which can and must be supported in the public schools,...

and the prohibition of the teaching of any perspective which does not specifically support and agree with the beliefs and dogmas of their churches.

Amen

brother.

Thank you!

Thank you, Representative Davnie, for this informative article. It is a good example of truth in advocacy. Now I would like the Minnesota Catholic Conference to respond with truth in opposition – or better yet, to abandon its opposition to the Safe and Supportive Schools Act.

Mr. Davnie is my Representative

And a wonderful one. We have a number of people like him in the legislature who keep a fairly low profile but who do a lot of very good work legislatively and also represent their constituents well.

Thanks Mr. Davnie for this great piece explaining the current situation with respect to the bill. From what appears in the paper - and right wing tweets - it is often very difficult to get a clear picture.

Rep. Davnie's comments on the Safe & Supportive Schools Act

Thank you for your clear and informative description of the Safe & Supportive Schools Act.

The MCC

If you think the MCC run by the propedophile anti everything else bishop is going to admit he his wrong, well, like my mother used to say, you have got another think coming.