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Opponents to Safe Schools bill testify, but arguments are losing steam

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
At the outset, committee Chair Patricia Torres Rey announced that she wanted to keep discussion focused on consideration of a “delete-all” amendment.

For the opposition to Minnesota’s antibullying bill, the end might be arriving with a whimper. Last year, the bill seemed jinxed to serve as the object of the religious right’s retribution for the passage of marriage equality.

Fueled by the lobbying resources of a far less embattled Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and by fears that the recognition of same-sex marriages would spell the end of religious liberties, last year opponents played hardball. Fresh out of the gate this year, they seem to be having a hard time advancing a cogent narrative.

Tuesday a handful of the hundreds of average Joes who turned out to testify for and against the Safe and Supportive Schools Act ended up addressing the Senate Education Policy Committee, the bill’s first stop since its contentious shelving in the final hours of the 2013 Legislature.

After more than two hours of parliamentary kickboxing by outfoxed GOPers and DFLers waffling on how much of a hearing to allow, testifiers told emotional, personal stories of being taunted, beaten and harassed. So much so that at first blush, it wasn’t entirely clear that the opponents weren’t in fact making a case for the urgent need for the bill.

The arguments

A Maple Grove parent said she would prefer her kids’ teachers deal with issues as they saw fit, and a long-retired teacher from the Anoka-Hennepin School District said she kept classroom miscreants in line with sharp looks and a district-supplied Bible.

Three others ended descriptions of their struggles with a plea for lawmakers to reject the measure, which they claimed would protect “the LGBTs” and not them. None seemed phased when the bill’s Senate author, Scott Dibble, read aloud the passage applying the law to all students.

A young man listening from one of the first-come, first-serve seats in the hearing room wore a bright red shirt emblazoned with a list of people, including sodomites, fornicators, feminists and lukewarm Christians who “Deserve Hell.” Others who showed up wearing buttons and signs tried to cover them when photojournalists began documenting the hearing.

Indeed at times it seemed that the biggest challenge faced by committee Chair Patricia Torres Rey, DFL-Minneapolis, was to figure out how to walk the line between allowing the 75 people who asked to testify to repeat the meme that there is only so much protection to go around and appearing unwilling to entertain voters who had been waiting hours.

The bill’s Senate author Scott Dibble
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
The bill’s Senate author, Scott Dibble, testifying the law would apply to all students.

At the outset, Torres Rey announced that she wanted to keep discussion focused on the business before the committee: Consideration of a “delete-all” amendment that would strike most of the language crafted last year and replace it with painstakingly negotiated provisions that satisfied a range of concerns school administrators had been quietly raising for months.

Those issues included a less precise definition of bullying and reporting requirements that districts predicted they would not be able to implement. The changes came on top of late-in-session concessions lawmakers made last year exempting parochial schools while allowing them to keep $75 million in state aid.

The Catholic Church and the other groups lobbying against marriage equality last year depicted the anti-bullying measure as an extension of the push for same-sex marriage, seeming intent on creating a toehold for legally opting out of civil-rights legislation. The church insisted that the law was an “Orwellian nightmare,” that would “usurp parental rights” and create “re-education camps.” Specific language in the bill protecting students from religious harassment and protecting free speech failed to satisfy critics.

Opposition less mainstream this year

The opposition this year is even less mainstream. The Minnesota Family Council placed robo-calls and e-mailed supporters in an effort to pack the Capitol. But the loudest voices this year are those of the Minnesota Child Protection League, an offshoot of Education Liberty Watch.

In turn, Education Liberty Watch is the group that three years ago worked to scuttle an early-childhood-education bill that had broad bipartisan support, arguing among other things that it would create a literal nanny state. Its small but vocal adherents helped to give U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann her political start. Republican Bachmann fought anti-bullying measures during her time in the state House of Representatives.

A young man listening from one of the first-come, first-serve seats in the room
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
A young man listening from one of the first-come, first-serve seats in the hearing room wore a bright red shirt emblazoned with a list of people who “Deserve Hell.”

This year, the Child Protection League promised a billboard campaign to defeat Safe Schools. At least one billboard went up last month, but lawmakers say they are unsure there have been any others.

After going back and forth on how to proceed Tuesday, Torres Rey tried to gavel the meeting to a vote at 2:45, nearly three hours after the hearing started. Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, reminded the chair that she had volunteered at the outset to reconvene at 6 p.m. if those who had made the trek wanted to be heard.

All but one amendment rejected

In the end, the evening session was taken up not by more citizen testimony but by the offering and rejection of all but one of 12 GOP amendments. The bill now moves to the Senate Education Finance Committee.

Its eventual passage onto the Senate floor and then back to the House is expected. But then again, it was expected last year. 

Also remaining to be seen: Whether opponents can muster a better offensive than the one on display Tuesday.   

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/12/2014 - 09:33 am.

    It would be helpful

    if the press could publish the actual bill’s language so we could all see what the disagreement is about in something other than third-person abstract terms.

    I can’t find the actual bill anywhere.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/12/2014 - 09:52 am.


    Fighting to preserve the non-existent “right” to bully gay children without consequence? Talk about twisted priorities.

  3. Submitted by Shannon Drury on 03/12/2014 - 10:57 am.

    As a feminist, I’m thrilled to find that I’m represented on this fella’s shirt. Makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 03/12/2014 - 08:03 pm.

      You’re not alone, Shannon…

      I think at one point or another in my life I’ve covered a few myself, or at least a loose interpretation. Not a distinction that the guy wearing the shirt is going to grant me, but what the heck…

  4. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 03/12/2014 - 12:08 pm.

    The bill


    The bill’s third engrossment–the version passed out of committee Tuesday night–is not yet available online. When it is ready it will be posted here: 

  5. Submitted by Shelley Leeson on 03/12/2014 - 12:22 pm.

    Why are my comments being blocked?

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/12/2014 - 01:10 pm.

    Although I’m Sure the Young Man with the Red Shirt

    Believed his shirt was expressing a very faithful religious point of view, his attempt to give the appearance of quoting the Bible in compiling his list of those whom God will judge, leaves out some very notable groups, such as all those who do NOT feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, or visit those who are sick or in prison (Matthew 25:31-46),…

    while he adds a few who are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible (pot heads? feminists?).

    Like so many “conservatives,” he seems to believe that God cannot help but agree with HIM on everything HE believes, proclaiming his own faithfulness, while ignoring what it was that the Hebrew Prophets actually said, and ignoring the attitudes and actions, the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus,…

    (who, in Mr. Redshirt’s mind and heart, didn’t come to earth to learn anything about what it’s like to live within the limitations of being human, nor to show us anything about how God would have us live, or teach us anything about who God really is, but whose only purpose was, as one of the posters for Mel Gibson’s own biblical travesty of a movie, “The Crucifixion”, proclaimed, “to die” in order to buy Mr. Redshirt’s ticket to heaven).

    It’s sad but true that a fairly large number of people who believe themselves to be faithful “Christians” would have been, if they had lived in first century Judea, completely on the side of the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, and absolutely opposed to Jesus, who was, after, all challenging the established traditions of the faith, as it existed in his day, a faith which most of those who led it and followed it thought had been honed and polished to a fine and unquestionable level of perfect faithfulness before Jesus arrived and started causing trouble.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/12/2014 - 01:49 pm.

    A whole new definition

    of “red-shirting” springs to mind. Coaches and athletic directors will not be pleased.

    I should add that convictions that are displayed for a small audience in a legislative hearing room, but that must be covered if it appears they might be displayed to the general public, or otherwise connected to the person expressing them, seem likely to be convictions that are …um… how shall I say this diplomatically?… “not very admirable?” “not in keeping with the widely-used term ‘freedom?'” “supportive of the notion that the term ‘thug’ is not ethnically specific?”.

    People embarrassed by their own views often have reason to be embarrassed.

  8. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/12/2014 - 11:29 pm.

    Unfunded Mandate

    Though the argument for the law seems to be to protect the gay and lesbian children, my bigger concern was that the earlier drafts made the schools responsible for a lot of things that occurred off school grounds. (ie cyber bullying)

    Hopefully that has been removed. Where are the parents of these children? And how did our schools become responsible for bullying that occurs off school property?

    “Subdivision 1. Local and state policy; scope and application. (a) This section applies to:

    (1) conduct on school premises, at school functions or activities, and on school transportation;

    (2) use of electronic technology and communications on school premises, during school functions or activities, on school transportation, and on school computers, networks, forums, and mailing lists; and

    (3) use of electronic technology and communications off school premises to the extent such use is reasonably foreseeable to substantially and materially disrupt student
    learning or the school environment.”

    • Submitted by kelly barnhill on 03/13/2014 - 08:55 am.

      cyber bullying

      Actually it *is* important that the cyber bullying piece stays in. Research shows that cyber-bullying in teens actually starts on the school grounds – it’s simply a continuation school-specific bullying. And it gives the bully an extra tool to *never make it stop*. Add to that: many districts are not only allowing, but encouraging the use of personal electronics as part of the school day. Which means that the electronic harassment/intimidation has the potential to happen both on campus and off.

      The most powerful aspect of the law, I feel, is the requirement to document and share. We can’t know what we’re dealing with unless we have the numbers, and we can’t see if our efforts are successful unless we can look at the data. It’s important.

      I also like the preference toward restorative rather than punitive practices as a way of dealing with this problem. Suspensions will not help. Bullying, as it turns out, is a manifestation of privilege. Bullies bully because they CAN, and because they feel EMPOWERED TO DO SO, and because they lack the empathy to notice their harm. In a restorative model, the child that bullies is required to see the harm, and repair it. In the end, only empathy can fix this.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/13/2014 - 08:46 pm.

        Scope Creep

        Somewhere along the line it seems many people have forgotten that schools and their personnel are there to teach children. These folks are having a hard enough time with that goal based on the state’s achievement gap, yet for some reason people keep trying to heap more roles and responsibilities on them. (ie parent, drug counselor, social worker, food provider, police, bully preventer, etc)

        Please remember that the kids are only with them for 8 hours per day, for only ~173 days per year. (~1400 hrs/yr) And that is if the child is there every minute of every day. That leaves the child outside of their control for nearly 7400 hrs/yr…

        Now if you truly want to support the Schools and the staff, let them focus on things that happen “IN” the school or “On” the buses… And start holding Parents accountable for the job they volunteered for.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/14/2014 - 09:06 am.

          Not a problem

          “Scope crreep” isn’t a problem if the schools are properly funded. John is right the sense that you can’t keep adding to the school mission without increasing funding.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/14/2014 - 05:35 pm.

            Wasteful Redundancy

            Tax payers already fund Welfare, Social Services and the Police.

            And Parents should be held accountable for being responsible Parents.

            So let’s have the educational system focus on educating the children for the relatively fewer hours per year that the children are in their care.. Not try to hold them accountable for the lion’s share of the children’s lives.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/14/2014 - 05:36 pm.


            maybe we can move the funding from social services to the schools…

    • Submitted by Chris Nerlien on 03/18/2014 - 02:29 pm.

      Beyond Gay and Lesbian

      First of all, the law protects all students from being bullied for any number of reasons. Only one of which is sexual orientation. How convenient that decided not to copy and paste that section. Here, I’ll do it for you:

      (g) Intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harming conduct may involve, but is not
      3.4limited to, conduct that causes physical harm to a student or a student’s property or
      3.5causes a student to be in reasonable fear of harm to person or property; under Minnesota
      3.6common law, violates a student’s reasonable expectation of privacy, defames a student,
      3.7or constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress against a student; is directed
      3.8at a student or students based on a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color,
      3.9creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status,
      3.10socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, including gender identity
      3.11and expression, academic status related to student performance, disability, or status with
      3.12regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A.
      3.13However, prohibited conduct need not be based on any particular characteristic defined in
      3.14this paragraph or chapter 363A.
      3.15 (h) “Prohibited conduct” means bullying or cyberbullying as defined under this
      3.16subdivision or retaliation for asserting, alleging, reporting, or providing information about
      3.17such conduct.

      You’re welcome.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/18/2014 - 04:24 pm.

        Promotion Factor

        Do you really believe this bill would be at the State level if it wasn’t for the LGBT problems that have been faced at various suburban schools over the past years?

        Pretty much all of the other classifications are the “typical protected classes” that schools already recognize. The concern of the LGBT folks is that “Conservative” school districts are not willing to protect LGBT students adequately, therefore they want to mandate it.

        There is nothing wrong with this plan, except it is trying to mandate state beliefs on local districts.

        And that “school’s should replace Parents” mentality I was arguing against earlier.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/13/2014 - 09:03 am.

    I read the bill

    Good grief. This is an example of what people mean when they talk about “big government.” All that bureaucratic nonsense to try to stop kids from being bullied.

    Here’s a better idea. Offer self-defense classes after school to those kids who are interested in learning how to defend themselves. My experience has been that’s pretty much the most effective way to deal with schoolyard bullies. The kid who bullied me in the 7th grade was in my wedding party ten years later after we had “settled our differences.”

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 03/13/2014 - 02:34 pm.


      So your solution to child bullying is to teach children to become pugilists? With classes on combat IN the schools? Aside from the fact that most parents don’t really want their children getting in fights, that’s also cold comfort to the kid who’s 4 foot 6 and is getting bullied by someone twice their size. Or the kid who’s outnumbered. Also, a lot of bullying is emotional or verbal, and online, so this would seem to be an entirely asymmetrical solution to that… having children physically assault another over verbal altercations is a bad escalation, in my book, and not likely to stop the bullying anyways. It’s also callous.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 03/13/2014 - 03:33 pm.

      That’s brilliant…

      more progressive thinking from what passes for the GOP…learn to fight. Just because that’s what we did forty years ago, doesn’t mean it’s relevant now. Why not just advocate that the kids pack heat as well? Let’s just throw in the towel on the whole civilization experiment. Schools can be Thunderdome where only the strong exit and the weak are automatically culled from the herd… right, Dennis?

  10. Submitted by jason myron on 03/13/2014 - 11:46 am.

    Cyber bullying

    might be the most important aspect of this bill. Anyone who doesn’t think this is a major problem for today’s youth has their head in the sand. Lamenting about “where the parents are” is pointless and counterproductive. Not to mention the sad fact that much of this attitude comes from the parents themselves. Those people are already a lost cause, but their kids might not be.

  11. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/13/2014 - 03:38 pm.

    Hate the headline

    I oppose the “safe school” bill. Does that make me against safe schools?

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