ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — An anti-bullying law that replaces one some found too weak is now in place.
Gov. Mark Dayton used an outdoor ceremony Wednesday to sign a bill toughening Minnesota’s stand against bullying. The bill passed overnight after a protracted House debate.
Supporters say it will provide a safer learning environment for children. Critics argue it will subject more kids to punishment for expressing their religious beliefs or engaging in other youthful behavior.
The bill requires school districts to track and investigate cases of bullying and directs schools to better train staff and teachers on how to prevent it. Current law requires school districts to have a bullying policy but doesn’t include details on what the policy should contain.
At Kenny Elementary School in Minneapolis, bullying prevention is already front and center.
“We have so many of these things in place right now,” said Bill Gibbs, the school’s principal.
Teachers already get positive behavior training, and students learn about bullying on their first day of school.
“We talk to the kids that we never tease anyone about where their family comes from, what their skin color is, whether boys like boys or boys like girls,” Gibbs said.
The far-reaching law includes 19 bullying categories, from physical appearance to welfare families to sexual orientation and gender identity.
It got a strong push from gay and lesbian groups who say GLBT students are among the most likely to be targeted.
Schools will be required to designate a bullying contact person and investigate reports within three days.
Gibbs says he’ll appoint a bullying contact person as the law requires, and file the paperwork as directed. But he says the law is adding work to a good job his school is already doing.
During Tuesday’s debate, critics of the bill called it a one size fits all big government solution.
“If my grandkids are having a problem, call their mom and dad, call me. We’ll take care of the problem,” said Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee). “We’ll make sure an apology is issued, and if they are being bullied, we’ll take care of that, too.”
The new law goes into effect for the 2014-15 school year.
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