BY STATE SEN. DAVID OSMEK
Earlier this month, the Senate passed the Bullying Bill with bipartisan opposition after debating approximately 16 amendments over a five-hour period. Ultimately, I voted against this bill for three very important reasons.
Parental Notification: There is no requirement to notify either the parents of a child who is “perceived” to have been bullied or the child who is allegedly doing the actual bullying. Parents should be at the center of the solution involving allegations of bullying and those who voted for this bill apparently believe parental notification should be discretionary. And authorities could refer your child to the school “technical assistance center” for counseling or remedial action without your consent or knowledge.
Costs: The bill creates a state unfunded mandate on our local school districts that will cost approximately $19 million per year. In rural schools, this will mean either fewer teachers in the classrooms and more students per class, or a significant property tax increase. Cost estimates are as high as $32 per student being taken directly out of the classroom to pay for this bill.
Local control: As I stated on the Senate floor, the best way to describe this bill is in six words, “In St. Paul, we know better.” With this bill, our locally elected school board, school superintendents, and teachers will no longer have the ability to implement bullying policies that fit their respective schools the best. Under this new top down, one-size-fits-all concept, Minnesota’s Commissioner of Education “shall develop and maintain a state model policy,” which will effectively prohibit our local school leaders from implementing bullying policies to protect our children.
We did have an option available to replace this bill with a tested law currently used by North Dakota. Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, who championed this legislation was never granted a hearing all session. Alternatively, the legislation was offered as a floor amendment but ultimately failed on a party line vote. This alternative would have eliminated all the problems I have listed above. The North Dakota Legislature passed this bill with broad bipartisan support and has been implemented successfully.
The fact of the matter is that St. Paul doesn’t always know best, and our children deserved better. Parents are the most important teachers in our children’s lives and excluding them from the process of dealing with bullying in our schools is wrong on so many levels. This new law will ultimately suppress new and creative solutions to bullying, taking our schools in the wrong direction.