safeschools

Organizations supporting the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act are ramping up organizing as legislative session nears.

The Safe Schools for All Coalition, comprised of nearly a 100 diverse groups, is busy organizing in support of a bill proponents say will beef up the state’s anti-bullying laws. The bill, the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, passed the Minnesota House last year and made it through key committees in the Minnesota Senate. Advocates are pushing hard to get it passed this session, while Republicans, Tea Party groups, and the religious right are working to stop the bill, mainly because it includes protections for LGBT students.

The bill would set up robust systems in Minnesota for the reporting of bullying, and would create bullying prevention efforts in school districts.

The Safe Schools for All Coalition is pushing the bill. The coalition includes nearly 100 religious, ethnic, civil, and disability rights organizations.

On Mar. 3, the coalition is organizing a student-led rally in the rotunda of the Minnesota Capitol building at 1:30 pm. In addition, a petition has been launched that will be delivered to legislators at the start of the legislative session.

The group is hosting house parties to raise awareness for the bill, and supporters can even get a “I [heart] Safe Schools” t-shirt by becoming a member of OutFront Minnesota, the main group organizing in favor of the bill.

Organizing in support of the bill is happening across the state and among a diverse array of groups.

On Jan. 31, OutFront held a fundraiser at the Duluth Flame Nightclub to spread awareness.

On Feb. 2, at Itasca Community College, OutFront gave a presentation on the safe schools bill, according to the Grand Rapids Herald Review.

“There’s some opposition that comes with this legislation because there are people and groups who don’t want LGBT students to be protected,” Michelle Dibblee, Organizing Director for OutFront, told attendees.

According to the Herald Review, “She added that some of the most vocal opponents see anti-bullying legislation as a part of a greater “gay agenda,” causing several organizations which have stood in the way of LGBT rights to actively campaign against the bill. Dibblee and the other presenters at Monday’s event were clear that the bill is not just about LGBT students, but about everyone.”

In the Marshall area, DFL activists presented resolutions in support of the safe schools bill at party caucuses.

Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, urged members to support the safe schools bill at party caucuses. According to a document from the group, members were armed with talking points that read, “The bill defines bullying and harassment and requires schools to report incidents and prepare plans to prevent bullying and protect victims,” and, “The bill would help to standardize how districts respond to bullying. In the current system, too many districts have inadequate responses or no policy at all.”

Members of the Arc of Minnesota, a group that provides advocacy and support for people with developmental disabilities and their families, have been busy organizing support. Mike Gude, The Arc Minnesota Communications Director, wrote about some of that organizing on the organization’s blog:

We have been supported in our work by local chapters of The Arc and by self-advocates Hunter Sargent, Hollynd Sargent, and Heidi Myhre. Both Hunter and Heidi spoke publicly at a December 8th Safe Schools campaign rally in Minneapolis about the importance of passing anti-bullying legislation to protect people with disabilities. Hunter has developed a rap song about the need to stop bullying, created anti-bullying t-shirts that his wife Hollynd has been marketing, and has spoken to groups to further raise awareness.
To ensure that the legislation passes the Senate this year, it’s important that the coalition have a strong disability presence to show legislators that bullying affects all students. We’ll need your help to increase that presence.

OutFront and the Safe Schools for All Coalition are organizing a Youth Summit for students in the 9th through 12th grade on Monday, March 3. The event will give students a look at the political process as well as information about the bill. The morning session is ar Metropolitan State University from 8am to 1pm and will include information about: bullying prevention, racial equity, spoken word, addressing stereotypes, mental health, advocating for change at your school

Then the group will head to the Capitol from 1:30pm to 4:30 pm for a rally at the rotunda.

Organizing continues by members of the Safe Schools for All Coalition including groups like Jewish Community Action, The Youth Legacy Foundation, The Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and The Girl Scouts.

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Andy Birkey
Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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