The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 2, 2014

Minn. gay rights groups turn attention to bullying

(Continued)

The bill also would create a "school climate center" at the Department of Education to guide schools in creating policies and collect yearly data on bullying. Lawmakers approved $1 million last year to create the climate center, which would be supervised by a 24-member council of officials from various state agencies.

"Are we just going to create a lot of bureaucracy here, that's actually going to make it difficult to do the work of reducing incidents of bullying?" asked Grace Keliher, lobbyist for the Minnesota School Boards Association.

She said school board members are concerned about a number of the bill's provisions, including what some feel is an overly broad definition of bullying; the lack of an appeals process for students deemed bullies; and training requirements that could be costly if applied to many thousands of school volunteers around the state.

The cost to implement the legislation is estimated at about $20 million a year. The bill's supporters say schools should have no problem finding that money with about $485 million in increased school funding that lawmakers approved last year.

"If a student is facing significant bullying, they're not living up to what the school experience should be about. It just cuts everything short," said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota. "A lot of students skip school, they get sick more often, they're nervous every day, scared."

Critics have been careful to couch concerns within broader support for the bill's aims.

"I think we all get a little choked up on this issue," Keliher said. "Kids are impacted, and it's impossible not to be moved by their stories. But we want to be sure it's not just talk."

Emotional appeals from former victims of bullying have helped sell the bill.

"I testified last year in front of a few committees, I've talked to senators about it. I've done bullying prevention seminars across the Midwest, and I've seen an overwhelming amount of students crying out for help," said Alec Fischer, a 20-year-old University of Minnesota student who recently made a documentary film about school bullying.

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