Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Minnesota's Governor signs 'Safe Schools Act'

Tammy & Anthony Aaberg, Rep. Scott Dibble, Rep.Jim Davnie & Ann Erickson Gettis
Photo Courtesy of Tammy Aaberg
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act into law today on the steps of the state Capitol.  He was accompanied by members of the LGBT advocacy community who have long championed an expansion of Minnesota's laws regarding bullying.
The final bill requires school leaders to develop a comprehensive anti-bullying policy, train staff to prevent bullying and quickly investigate allegations. Current state law requires school districts to have a bullying policy but doesn't include details on what the policy should contain.
Tammy Aaberg who helped lobby for the law and who lost her 15 year old son Justin in July of 2010 after his suicide brought on she says by bullying because he was gay, is grateful for the hard work of the lawmakers and her fellow supporters over the past few years to get this measure passed.
"I'm so very happy the Safe and Supportive Schools bill finally passed and that other kids will have the protection that they need," she said.
The law was faced considerable opposition from anti-gay self described pro-family conservative groups who accused its supporters of advancing a social agenda. The controversial bullying prevention section, which specifies "students cannot be bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity," has drawn significant attention as the opponents claimed that it amounted to special protection for LGBT youth and advanced "a gay agenda."
The bill had passed the Senate last week with a 36-31 vote with all Republicans and three Democrats voting against it. Tuesday's House session was acrimonious and debate from House Republicans ran for nearly 12 hours before the final vote which occurred shortly before 12:30 a.m Wednesday. The bill passed on a 69-63 vote, mostly along party lines.
Some Republicans expressed concern that the legislation would force school districts to teach young students about sexuality. This prompted Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, to claim that it [the bill] could expose students to "filthy, perverted information."
Other Republicans said the bill itself amounted to bullying, described it as fascism and compared it to George Orwell's novel "1984," about a state completely controlled by the government. They argued that it would override freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
"The Democrats want access into your private life," said Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker. "If this isn't a mirror image of '1984,' I don't know what is. The only difference is George Orwell was off by 30 years."
Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, the chief sponsor of the measure in the House, said the legislation is needed to ensure students felt safe at school and he repeatedly also stated that the bill has nothing to do with curriculum about sex.
"Sexuality and health education is local control and not affected by this bill," Davnie said. "There has been a lot of misinformation about this bill. The perception it deals with sexuality education is not correct. 
We talk about this being about anti-bullying, and it is. It's also about positioning Minnesota as a leader in the next generation of education reform," he said.