Updated: 02/19/2014 1:34 PM
Created: 02/17/2014 5:15 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
Of all the issues that will soon be up for debate at the Minnesota State Capitol, the debate surrounding the anti-bullying bill will be one of the most contentious, and likely the most important for Minnesota moms and dads.
A series of billboards are going up targeting key state senators and urging them to oppose the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which is aimed at ending bullying in Minnesota schools.
A sign just went up in the heart of Hibbing, directed at the district's state senator, David Tomassoni. It states, "Don't betray our children. Stop the bullying bill."
"A little bit provocative, maybe - but the goal is to get people's awareness," said Michele Lentz, the state coordinator for the Child Protection League Action, the nonprofit that put up the billboard.
Similar signs will soon surface in at least a dozen other districts, each demanding that lawmakers stop House File 826.
Supporters say the bill will turn the state's current bullying law - one of the nation's weakest - into one of the strongest, with clear definitions of bullying, training for students and staff, and specific procedures for bullying incidents.
"We believe that it will be harmful to children, and that it won't stop or prevent bullying," Lentz said. "School districts in Minnesota are independent, and this bill repeals all of those policies, whether they're working or not."
In addition to a potential loss of local control, Lentz said she fears the legislation is designed to change students' values by encouraging "developmentally appropriate" instruction to help students "value diversity." Then, there's the issue of whether parents should be notified of bullying incidents. The bill states there is a "presumption" that a school will notify a parent, "unless... notifying the parents is not in the best interest of the student."
"When parents are not notified, children are being harmed," Lentz said. "If we are all talking about protecting children, then who better to protect those children than the parents?"
CPL Action isn't alone in opposition to the bill. Every single Republican in the House voted against it when it passed the House.
But supporters of the bill include dozens of large, statewide organizations - from the state's largest teacher's union to the Minnesota PTA to gay rights groups. One of the coalition's main goals is to prevent all bullying based on race, religion, disability, physical appearance, sexual orientation or gender identity, among other student characteristics.
Senate hearings are expected to be held on the bill in the coming weeks.