The Minnesota School Board Association is advising school districts across the state to expand their harassment and violence policy to specify several more groups, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) students.
The association also is pushing for boards to put more pressure on school officials to intervene when they witness bullying. "We wanted to make it clear that safety is important for all students no matter sex, race, creed or sexual orientation," said Greg Abbott, School Board Association spokesman.
The recommendation will likely be controversial as its 335-member districts decide whether to act on the association's recommendation.
"Our concern with the proposed revision is that it only targets certain types of bullying and not all forms of bullying," said Tom Prichard, the president of Minnesota Family Council. "Singling out sexual orientation often leads to use of curriculum which promote homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage. Such efforts don't address the problem of bullying, which we all agree must be stopped."
In prior years, most Minnesota school districts' "Harassment and Violence" policies only protected against harassment based on race, religion or sex. Its bullying policy still doesn't specify types of groups.
The association's updated harassment policy is much more specific. It prohibits any form of harassment or violence "on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, familial status, and status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation or disability."
The association also is now recommending that districts take "disciplinary action" if school officials don't report bullying.
In September, Anoka-Hennepin School District came under national fire after it updated its bullying policy to include GLBT students with a clause that told teachers to stay neutral on the issue of homosexuality.
"People are itching for a fight on this one because it's so high profile right now," said Jim Roth, who specializes in education law at St. Mary's University and Hamline University.
The School Board Association's Abbott said the proposed wording isn't new, it's from Minnesota's historic human rights legislation passed in 1993. That law made Minnesota the first state to ban employment discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
Since then, politicians have worked to expand that language to include other groups through multiple bills that have largely failed in Congress. (Federal and state statutes override school district policies.)
Although there has not been a lawsuit, advocacy groups and politicians have been grappling in recent months with the question of what role, if any, schools play in preventing bullying.
A written policy might clarify issues for teachers who aren't sure what their role is, Roth said.
"I think it's tragic, in a sense, that it took things getting this bad for the MSBA to do the right thing," said Jacqueline White, a Minneapolis advocate of gay rights legislation whose lesbian daughter was bullied in school. "We really need to have an open conversation about how we can best support our kids."
Daarel Burnette II• 651-735-1695