Despite enactment of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act in 2014 to address bullying, incidents of harassment, abuse and blatant discrimination have not all stopped.
A number of students shared stories of violence, abuse and hatred they encountered in school with the House Education Policy Committee Monday. They spoke, sometimes while holding back tears, of the relative inaction of school administration in punishing the guilty.
Juwaria Jama of Spring Lake Park High School recalled feeling insulted and discriminated because of her hijab and Muslim faith more than once. “Our schools need to be safe places.”
Rep. Jessica Hanson (DFL-Burnsville) and Rep. Kaela Berg (DFL-Burnsville) sponsor bills to provide clearer guidelines to tackle the issue of harassment causing mental and physical pain, and to bring school district employees within its purview. They said their bills were prompted from more than 10,000 stories they’ve heard from students, parents, educators, and activists.
“We can all agree that students need to be safe,” Hanson said, adding dehumanization in any form is wrong. She added previous legislation has not addressed the issue of trauma students may suffer.
“This bill addresses the root cause,” Hanson said.
HF3260 would prohibit “malicious and sadistic conduct,” and require school boards to prohibit malicious and sadistic conduct involving race, religion, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, and sexual exploitation by students or staff against others. “Malicious and sadistic conduct” refers to creating a hostile learning environment with the intent to cause harm without just cause or reason or engaging in extreme cruelty.
Osseo School Board Director Tamara Grady highlighted the trauma suffered, especially by LGBTQ students, in schools. The rejection and ridicule they face can be debilitating to their mental balance, she said. “We have a moral responsibility to protect all vulnerable children.”
Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) asked if the bill could deal with issues such as employability of those accused of inappropriate behavior, and barring those employees from moving between school districts. She said Republicans unsuccessfully pushed for both to be included in the 2014 law.
HF3378 would update the state’s school bullying policy by requiring annual certification, prohibit retaliation against school employees for making a complaint under the bullying policy and establishing a civil penalty for school districts to comply. It doesn’t have a Senate companion.
It was approved by an 11-7 party-line vote and referred to House Education Finance Committee.
Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) said certification does not equal accountability. “This bill is not ready for prime time,” she said.