BY KATHY LOHMER – GUEST COLUMNIST
In the April 16 publication of the Stillwater Gazette, a story titled “Anti-bullying Act gives School District Tools to Keep Students Safe” featured a quote from the Stillwater Area Public School District’s director of student support services claiming the school district was “very supportive” of the so-called Safe and Supportive Schools Act that just passed the legislature.
“Very supportive” was not the feedback I received from parents and school district officials when the bill came before the legislature. In fact, one member of the Stillwater Area Public School District School Board, Kathy Buchholz, notified the Minnesota School Board Association with her concerns after I alerted her to some very serious problems with the bill.
What is puzzling about the April 16 story is that is asserts this new law gives a clear definition of what is considered bullying, yet the district’s director of student support services admits that instances of bullying could be unclear toward the end of the story.
I would also like to address the April 23 editorial titled “Give New Bullying Law a Chance,” written the ECM Editorial Board. The authors argue in the first paragraph that the definition of bullying is clear because of the “objectively offensive” standard written into the law. The words “objectively” and “offensive” together as a single term creates an inherent contradiction. With students raised in different cultures and faiths, what may be an honest expression of a belief shared by a student based on family upbringing may be considered offensive to another. In other words, what is offensive is quite subjective.
The editorial board also goes on to say that the new law should be communicated to parents in the community. As I have been explaining this law to parents, they have become increasingly upset by the fact that schools are not required to notify parents when their child is accused of bullying or has been bullied themselves. With this bill’s passage, if your child is accused of bullying, it will likely go on his or her permanent record without you ever knowing. It’s unfortunate the editorial board trivializes this very flawed aspect of the new law that infringes on parents’ rights.
Given the $20-25 million unfunded mandate this new law imposes annually upon our school districts, would it not be a more effective use of taxpayer dollars — so that more money is spent in the classroom — to give local school districts the flexibility to implement district-specific bullying policies, rather than a one-size-fits-all policy dictated by politicians and bureaucrats from St. Paul? Stillwater Area Schools already had implemented an anti-bullying policy that was working well.
The Safe and Supportive Schools Act was debated for nearly 12 hours on the House floor, and many concerns were brought forward. In the end, this legislation had bi-partisan opposition with three Democrats in the House and three Democrats in the Senate voting “no,” as well as all Republican legislators. The exorbitant costs, anonymous reporting, the lack of parental notification, the due process issues, the potential for lawsuits and the obscene and patently offensive curriculum suggested for students as young as l0-years-old were just some of the points debated during those 12 hours.
As a mom of kids who have been victims of bullying, I know we can do better than what this new law will inflict upon students, parents and school district officials around the state.
Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, represents District 39B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.