ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota State Senate voted Thursday to pass the “Safe and Supportive Schools Act,” a bill, which would require all Minnesota school districts to develop and enforce a plan to reduce bullying. The vote was 36-31 after a marathon debate that at times was contentious.
The bill as passed now needs to be reconciled with the House version passed a year ago before it heads to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton for his signature.
The legislation faced considerable opposition from special interest groups representing school superintendents, school board members and rural school districts, who see the state delving deep into school policies along with right wing christian conservative groups who claimed that some students could get labeled bullies for expressing religious views opposing LGBT equality.
The bill would require all Minnesota public schools to adopt written policies on bullying prevention and designate a staff member to implement the policy.
School employees and volunteers would be trained to spot bullying and be required to “make a reasonable effort to address and resolve the prohibited conduct.”
"(Children) should be able to expect to go to school feeling safe, feeling supportive; not having to make that trade off. We'll see kids who are reluctant to go to school, or even staying away from school, or feeling like they have to switch schools, going to their own school and not having to worry about it," said Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) the measure's sponsor said shortly before the vote.
Alec Fischer, a 20-year-old University of Minnesota student in Minneapolis, has advocated in favor of the bill.
“I testified last year in front of a few committees, I've talked to senators about it. I’ve done bullying prevention seminars across the Midwest, and I've seen an overwhelming amount of students crying out for help,” said Fischer,who recently made a documentary film about school bullying.
Fischer, who grew up in nearby Edina, said students who believed he was gay bullied him during middle school. Excluded from social activities, he grew suicidal but concealed it from his parents for several years, he said.
The proposal law is “all about helping students — both bullies and the bullied — adapt in those situation, and to come to a point where everyone is more focused on understanding each other,” Fischer said. “It’s got to be a culture change, and that doesn't happen overnight.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.