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Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

Dayton signs law to crack down on bullying in Minnesota's schools

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: April 9, 2014 - 6:17 PM

On the steps of the Minnesota Capitol in the breezy spring sunshine, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a measure that he said would make clear that bullying “just can’t happen in Minnesota.”

“Nobody in this state or nation should have to feel bad about themselves for being who they are,” Dayton said, as cameras clicked. “This law says not in Minnesota.”

The governor was backed by a host of children who had written to lawmakers, testified before the Legislature and spoken out for the need for a law to protect children from bullying. Among them was Jake Ross, an 11-year-old who introduced himself as a Boy Scout and Christian.

In a calm articulate speech, Jake, of Forest Lake,  told the crowd of his experience in elementary school. As a seven-year he old, he said, he was threatened, attacked, laughed at and abused by bullies who threatened to kill him.

“Today marks the beginning of a change in thinking about bullying,” Jake said. “I am very happy for this day.”

Jake said his school lacked policies to protect him and he ended up transferring. Now, he said he wishes to tell other children that he understands their struggles.

“I wish you freedom from your pain,” Jake said.

The law was a long time coming. Over two years lawmakers battled over the language, details and philosophy of the new law. Critics said the law is too prescriptive and takes away control from local officials who know their schools best.

During the nearly 12 hour debate on the Minnesota House floor Tuesday night, some opponents likened the measure to the totalitarian society George Orwell depicted in his novel 1984 or fascism.

Dayton on Wednesday smacked back against those critics.

Much of the debate, he said, was heartfelt from both sides of the aisle. But those comments, the governor said, have no place in the democratic forum.

“The first amendment guarantees free speech. But it doesn’t distinguish between intelligent speech and unintelligent speech,” Dayton said to whoops and applause. “This bill is American as any bill can be.”

Minnesota’s anti-bullying laws are no longer the weakest in the nation, but the bill signed into law is not as strong as its original incarnation.

The bill no longer requires schools to keep data and report it. They won’t be subject to mandatory training of volunteers. Districts will not have to adopt the state’s model policy unless they decline to devise one of their own.

The law defines bullying behavior and addresses cyberbullying. It requires schools to investigate bullying and training of school staff to prevent it.

Photo: Boy Scout Jake Ross, 11, thanked bullying law sponsors Rep. Jim Davnie and Sen. Scott Dibble, as Gov. Mark Dayton looked on//from Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune. 

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