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.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below, or consider writing a Community Voices commentary. For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.