Acknowledging long odds, legislators offer anti-bullying bill

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A bill that would direct school boards to adopt stringent anti-bullying policies was introduced in the Minnesota Senate on Monday. The bill would add disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and several other characteristics to existing anti-bullying policies. Minnesota, and in particular the Anoka-Hennepin School District, has been at the center of the anti-bullying debate after a spike in student suicides where bullying is believed to have been a factor.

The bill is authored by openly gay Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis along with DFLers Teri Bonoff of Minnetonka, Charles Wiger of Maplewood, and Tony Lourey of Kerrick. It’s similar to a bill offered in 2009 that passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The bill reads:

By January 1, 2012, a school board must adopt a written policy that prohibits harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence based on, but not limited to, actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, physical characteristics, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics. The policy shall address harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence in all forms including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms requiring Internet use.

Dibble told Jon Collins of Southwest Minneapolis Patch that it isn’t likely to get a hearing this year because of Republican control of the Minnesota Legislature.

“We’re going to introduce it and ask for hearings – we’ll see. I’m dubious,” he said. “I think the general posture of the right-wing fundamentalists and religious conservative Republicans is hostile towards treating gay kids fairly in schools. I’m going to try because kids are being bullied to death and that’s unacceptable in Minnesota.”

In the Anoka-Hennepin School District, bullying has become a big issue. LGBT advocates have said that several suicides in the district were related to anti-gay bullying, and parents, students and staff have called for policy changes at school board meetings. Conservative religious parents – backed by the Minnesota Family Council’s Barb Anderson – have said that they don’t want any pro-LGBT content or policies in the district.