By Susan Maricle
State Senator Scott Dibble and Representative Jim Davnie announced their intent to introduce the Minnesota Safe Schools for All Act in the upcoming special session. The legislation is needed, they say, and controversial, others feel, because it specifically lists GLBT students. This year the Anoka-Hennepin school system has seen seven teen suicides, four of them by students relentlessly bullied because they were gay or thought to be gay.
The topic of bullying programs, especially those that single out populations of students, has been politically sticky. Bullying is often seen as a matter of “kids being kids.” Others equate protecting a specific student population with approval of that lifestyle. But it’s the enumeration, or spelling out of specific populations, that provides a consistent policy within a school, said Monica Meyer of Outfront Minnesota.
Others who spoke movingly and passionately on behalf of the bill were Jean Bender of ARC of Minnesota, Leigh Combs of The Family Partnership, and Phil and Barb Schrader. The Schraders’ son, who is gay, kept from his parents the fact that he was being bullied — and at one point was contemplating suicide.
Afterward, Senator Dibble and Representative Davnie answered a host of questions from the media: Why a law? Why now? Why not leave it to the parents? Are you trying to embarrass Governor Pawlenty and Gubernatorial Candidate Emmer? Are you taking money away from the flood victims? What if Pawlenty says no special session?
“Anyone who is responding politically, I can only respond by saying as just being cynical. We are talking about kids and families. Leigh Combs said it best. It is time to stop playing politics with the lives of kids and our community and our families. Anyone who is going to be embarrassed will be embarrassed by their own choosing.”
—State Senator Scott Dibble
“Look at the coverage of bullying and the tragedies across the country in the media the last number of weeks and months. We didn’t choose the timing for this. This has not been any maneuvering. This is simply a recognition that there’s a crisis in our schools. That we’re the adults in this state. That we need to do what we’re doing here today of send a message to kids. That there are people who care. That they’re working. That there’s hope. That it gets better. As the campaign says, but also to stand up and say We’ve got some fingers and some hands on the levers of the state, and we’re going to try and make things better.”
—State Rep. Jim Davnie
In recent Gubernatorial debates Republican candidate Tom Emmer has said anti-bullying legislation that specifies gay students isn’t necessary. Both Democrat Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner said they support the legislation.
Here’s what Dayton said about the legislation: “Bullying in schools based on a young person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity has grown to terrible proportions and the consequences of those actions are severe. No students should be driven to take their own lives simply because of who they are. I stand with Senator Al Franken to pass strong, anti-bullying measures here in Minnesota and nationwide. As Governor, I will fight for and sign a tougher Safe Schools bill. The time is now to speak out, lead, and act to protect all Minnesota’s youth.”
• Gay kids “most likely” group to be bullied, according to study:
• The world’s best-known evidence-based bullying prevention program is published in Minnesota:
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
• Humanity Against Local Terrorism – HALT This new website offers education, prevention, support and services to abused and bullied victims as well as hopefully finding a solution to stop this local terrorism of bullying, abuse and domestic violence within our communities.