Minnetonka Senator Takes Aim at School Bullying

Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) is co-author of legislation that would require school boards to add the act of bullying to their written policies prohibiting sexual or racial discrimination.

On Monday, State Senator Scott Dibble (DFL- Minneapolis) introduced legislation which would force Minnesota’s local school boards to implement rigorous anti-bullying policies-- expanding bullying protection to include LGBT and disabled youth.

(DFL-Minnetonka) is a co-author of the legislation—legislation which she said is crucial for Minnesota students.  

“The schools are the biggest place where kids feel they are accepted and belong or they don’t,” Bonoff told Minnetonka Patch yesterday.

And according to the 2010 Minnesota Student Survey, almost one in five local students routinely feel not accepted at school. In that data, an average of 21 percent of high school students in Hennepin County reported having been teased or excluded by others within a 30-day time period. Nearly one-third of those same students also reported that they themselves, had teased or excluded another student within that same period.  

The issue of bullying has attracted a lot of attention recently, following a slew of suicides by gay teens across the country, including Justin Aaberg, a student at Anoka High School who committed suicide in July 2010. 

“This past summer, we have had a rash of teen suicides in our state," said Bonoff. "What that says to me is that whatever we are doing is not working.”

And for that reason, Bonoff said, she is working with Dibble to create a culture of acceptance in Minnesota schools. But this kind of legislation is not new for Dibble. In 2009, he introduced a similar bill which was ultimately vetoed by then-governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican. 

While a Democrat now sits in the governor's office, both houses of the state legislature were captured by Republicans in the 2010 election. Dibble said he has little hope this new legislation will pass the Republican-dominated legislature. As Dibble looked for co-authors for the bill this session, he said he was turned down by three separate Republican colleagues, all of whom formerly supported the measure.

“Now my Republican friends who have been supportive in the past, now are in opposition,” Dibble said. “The Republican party has gotten so extreme.”

The Minnesota Family Council has been heavily involved in the nationwide debate about bullying—the group also actively objects to homosexuality.  And MFC President Tom Prichard said his organization, which has historically opposed similar legislation, has already spoken to some legislators about the issue.

"Our view is clearly that we oppose all bullying for any and every reason, whether being teased for being gay and lesbian or anything else," Prichard said. "Schools should address all bullying rather than pulling out certain forms of bullying.”

The issue of comprehensive bullying legislation will not only be a debate in the State Senate but also in the House. State Representative and teacher, John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) said he expects companion house legislation to Dibble’s bill, to be introduced as an amendment to the Safe Schools Levy, HF 88.

"I support it," Benson said. "It is something that needs to be done. I’ve seen that kind of harassment going on and it's something teachers are having to deal with."

Despite its dreary outlook in the legislature, Dibble said he'll continue to champion the bill.

"It's an important issue for us to continue to talk about, just in and of itself, to be sending these messages to young people that somebody in office cares about them,” Dibble said.

Bonoff agreed: “It’s just so important.”

Laura Collins March 02, 2011 at 03:00 AM


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