Minnesota is poised to pass one of the nation’s strongest anti-bullying measures, the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act. But the Religious Right, Tea Party and Republicans are teaming up to try to kill the bill, and they are not being truthful in their efforts. Here are the top 5 falsehoods being promoted about the bill.

Right-wing claim #1. Parents are left out: One of the key talking points by Minnesota’s right-wing is that the parents won’t be notified when a bullying incident occurs.

[sws_red_box box_size=”100″] “When parents are not notified, children are being harmed,” Michele Lentz, spokesperson for the Minnesota Child Protection League told KSTP. “If we are all talking about protecting children, then who better to protect those children than the parents?”

“It’s not even required that a parent be notified. It’s out of your hands, out of the school’s hands and into the hands of the bureaucrats in St. Paul” — Peggy Bennett, a Republican candidate for House District 27A in a letter to the Albert Lea Tribune.

“Astonishingly, the bill does not require parental notification for either students who have been bullied or those accused of bullying,” — Katherine Kersten, in a column for the Star Tribune. [/sws_red_box]

But that’s not quite the truth.

The bill says there is “(i) a presumption that a district or school official will notify the parent of any student affected by alleged prohibited conduct of facts related to the incident and any disciplinary or remedial action taken by the school or district, unless notification to the parent is otherwise prohibited by law or the official, in consultation with the district’s responsible authority, determines that notifying the parent is not in the best interest of the student, as consistent with section 13.02, subdivision 8;”

The bill says there is a presumption that the parents will be notified, unless there’s a good reason not to.

In Iowa, legislators are also looking at strengthening their anti-bullying laws. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad — you read that correctly, he’s a Republican — explained to the Gazette why his recommendations included a similar exception:

“We’ve got to be very careful,” Branstad said. “Normally you want to notify the parents, but there may be some exceptional situations where you want to have a different alternative, depending upon the situation that child has with their home life. Unfortunately, many kids are living in very difficult situations.”

Parents will be notified under the bill unless there are concerns that notifying parents would be harmful to the student.

[sws_green_box box_size=”100″] (Fun fact: School district collaboration with parents is mentioned 26 times in the bill) [/sws_green_box]

Right-wing claim #2. Lack of local control: The right-wing says that the state will take over local school districts’ ability to create anti-bullying policies if the bill passes.

[sws_red_box box_size=”100″]”The bill would throw out Minnesota’s current “local control” antibullying law and replace it with a sweeping new statewide antibullying regime administered from St. Paul.” — Katherine Kersten in the Star Tribune

“I believe that with clarification of existing laws we can avoid this very costly unfunded mandate and allow our elected school boards to remain in control of our schools.” – Rep. Jeff Howe of Rockville in an email to constituents

Rep. Ernie Leidiger of Mayer criticized the DFL’s “Bullying bill that takes away local control from schools and parents, and grows government in St. Paul,” in an email to constituents.

“Next session, the legislature is likely to take up a bill related to bullying. It’s likely to be a one-size-fits-all solution that won’t do much to address the fundamental causes of bullying, but rather increases bureaucracy and spending at the Minnesota Department of Education. I believe school districts and local communities are best equipped to tackle the bullying problems in our schools — not the state government.” — Rep. Ron Kresha of Little Falls in an email to constituents [/sws_red_box]

The bill spells out how the school district policies are crafted: locally and in concert with local students, local parents, and local organizations:

“Districts and schools, in consultation with students, parents, and community organizations, shall adopt, implement, and annually review, and revise where appropriate, a written policy to prevent and prohibit student bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, and intimidation, consistent with this section.”

With local parents:

“(7) partner with parents in establishing a positive school climate by developing and implementing prevention and intervention programs on prohibited conduct under section 121A.031.”

School districts create their own policies:

Districts and schools are encouraged to provide developmentally appropriate programmatic instruction to help students identify, prevent, and reduce prohibited conduct; value diversity in school and society; develop and improve students’ knowledge and skills for solving problems, managing conflict, engaging in civil discourse, and recognizing, responding to, and reporting prohibited conduct; and make effective prevention and intervention programs available to students. Upon request, the school climate center under section 127A.052 must assist a district or school in helping students understand social media and cyberbullying. Districts and schools must establish strategies for creating a positive school climate and use evidence-based social-emotional learning to prevent and reduce discrimination and other improper conduct.

If the local school district doesn’t create a policy, it can use a model policy crafted by the state:
“The commissioner, in consultation with the commissioner of human rights, shall develop and maintain a state model policy. A district or school that does not adopt and implement a local policy under subdivisions 2 to 5 must implement and may supplement the provisions of the state model policy. The commissioner must assist districts and schools under this subdivision to implement the state policy. “

The fact that the state is creating an alternate model policy demonstrates that local districts craft their own policies. But the don’t have to. They have the option of using the state’s policy.

[sws_green_box box_size=”100″] (Fun fact: The bill actually says, “A district or school must adopt and implement a local policy”) [/sws_green_box]

Right-wing claim #3. Sex in the classroom: The Religious Right has been making the claim that the bill will force the teaching of explicit sexual materials, especially in light of the bill’s inclusion of LGBT students.

[sws_red_box box_size=”100″] “When parents are not notified, children are being harmed,” Michele Lentz, spokesperson for the Minnesota Child Protection League told KSTP. “If we are all talking about protecting children, then who better to protect those children than the parents?”

“It’s not even required that a parent be notified. It’s out of your hands, out of the school’s hands and into the hands of the bureaucrats in St. Paul” — Peggy Bennett, a Republican candidate for House District 27A in a letter to the Albert Lea Tribune.

“Requires re-education and remediation for Pre-K-12 grade students using curriculum that is sexually explicit, morally offensive, and physically unsafe.” – Minnesota Child Protection League website.

“Teachers you are not exempt there’s going to be material in here that you are going to be forced to teach that is morally offensive, pornographic, and obscene. Teachers if you don’t teach it if you don’t comply you could be threatened with the same remediation mental health counseling and loss of license.” – Rev. Dale Witherington to Livind Word Christian Center congregation

The bill “introduces controversial and sexually explicit course material throughout all classes to accustom student to various forms of sexual diversity. That is the strategy for stopping bullying. We do not think that is the appropriate strategy to stopping bullying they talk about age appropriate material.” – MNCPL board member Julie Quist

“it introduces controversial and sexually explicit course material throughout all classes to accustom students to various forms of sexual diversity;” – Resolution introduced at Republican caucuses

“Why is there more protection for [transgender students] while excluding other disorders like attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia, bulimia, and Asperger’s syndrome — this is just to name a few? And the children in these categories they are more likely to be bullied than the other students.” – Barb Anderson of MNCPL [/sws_red_box]

The only mentions of ‘curriculum’ in the bill are references to staff training expectations:

“effectively teach and model violence prevention policy and curriculum that address early intervention alternatives annually train all school staff and school volunteers who regularly interact with students in best practices to create and maintain a safe and supportive learning environment, consistent with section 121A.031, and teach nonviolent alternatives for conflict resolution, including restorative and reparative processes;”

Nothing in the bill prescribes any specific curriculum.

In fact, the report of the governor’s task force on bullying (which is not part of the law) mentions curriculum, but doesn’t specify what that curriculum would be:

Provide age-appropriate PreK-12 classroom lessons/learning opportunities and curricula designed to educate students on the methods of identifying, preventing and reducing bullying, harassment and intimidation and the value of diversity in schools and society, and to educate students on the following: a. Knowledge and skills for respecting human differences, inclusiveness and empathy; b. Problem solving and conflict management/resolution; c. Multicultural/anti-bias education and civil discourse; d. How to recognize and respond to bullying/harassment, including procedures for reporting to adults; e. Media literacy and Internet safety.

[sws_green_box box_size=”100″] (Fun Fact: The bill only mentions the term “sex” three times: Twice in regard to biological “sex,” and once in regard to “sexual orientation.”) [/sws_green_box]

Right-wing claim #4. Doesn’t include all kids: The right-wing has been making the claim that the bill does not protect all kids.

[sws_red_box box_size=”100″] “In a bill supposedly about bullying, the bill doesn’t even protect ALL students from bullying —
only certain listed “classifications” of students.” – Minnesota Family Council materials

“But a glance at the bill raises troubling questions. Why doesn’t it protect all children equally, instead of singling out for favored treatment children of “protected classes,” such as race, sexual orientation, and “gender identity and expression”? Why are traditional victims of bullying, like kids who are timid or viewed as nerds, invisible in this bill?” – Katherine Kersten in the Star Tribune [/sws_red_box]

But the bill is inclusive. Though it lists characteristics for which students are often targeted for bullying, the bill also says “may involve, but is not limited to” those characteristics.

“(d) Intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harassing conduct may involve, but is not limited to, conduct that is directed at a student or students based on a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A.”

[sws_green_box box_size=”100″] (Fun fact: 16 states list characteristics including sexual orientation in their anti-bullying laws. Two of those states, North Carolina and Arkansas, are considered “red states.”) [/sws_green_box]

Right-wing claim #5. Schools will lose funding if they discriminate against LGBT students.

[sws_red_box box_size=”100″] “Under the bill, schools could lose their state aid if the Education Department judges that they discriminate against LGBT students or those with gender-identity issues by not providing a sufficiently ‘positive school climate.’” — Katherine Kersten in Star Tribune. [/sws_red_box]

The bill doesn’t say that. It says schools may lose funding if they don’t follow the law. In this case, if the school district does not enact anti-bullying policies, it could lose funding from the state.

Sec. 15. Minnesota Statutes 2012, section 127A.42, subdivision 2, is amended to read:Subd. 2. Violations of law. The commissioner may reduce or withhold the district’s state aid for any school year whenever the board of the district authorizes or permits violations of law within the district by:…(6) noncompliance with state laws prohibiting discrimination because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, status with regard to public assistance or, disability, as defined in sections 363A.08 to 363A.19 and 363A.28, subdivision 10 , or noncompliance with prohibited conduct under section 121A.031; or

The bill does not say the state will pull funding for “not providing a sufficiently ‘positive school climate.’”

[sws_green_box box_size=”100″] (Fun fact: Katherine Kersten, in whose column much of these misleading statements were made, has been writing columns against the safe schools bill since 2008, complaining each time that the bill includes LGBT elements. They’ve even had similar titles such as: The real agenda behind schools’ anti- bullying curriculum in 2008, The real agenda behind antibullying campaign in 2013, Antibullying bill ‘safe’? Check the hidden agenda in 2014) [/sws_green_box]

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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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