By Danielle Killey
A rural Minnesota woman said if some schools had better programs and plans to deal with bullying, her son might not killed himself.
“I believe that my son’s unbearable pain and sadness was preventable,” Ann Gettis of Kenyon told a state Senate committee Tuesday.
Her son, Jeremiah, shot himself in 2006 after years of being bullied at school, she said.
“Jeremiah is only one of countless youth who have taken their lives after enduring the unspeakable pain and humiliation of being bullied,” Gettis said.
Minnesota state lawmakers heard the emotional testimony as they considered a bill aimed at addressing bullying in Minnesota schools.
The proposal would require districts to implement a bullying policy and plan, and deal with bullying issues at school, on buses and online. The committee passed the bill 9-6.
“We’ve waited too long to address bullying that occurs in our schools and across the state,” bill author Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “We have one of the nation’s weakest anti-bullying laws on the books.”
Most who discussed the bill Tuesday agreed bullying is an issue in Minnesota schools. But some said the proposal was not the best solution.
“Our concern is this bill goes beyond bullying,” Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council said.
He and others said it could infringe on the rights of private schools, especially religious ones, to hold certain beliefs on issues such as homosexuality.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, offered an amendment to exempt private schools from the bill, but it was voted down by the Democratic-controlled committee.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said the bill could have unintended consequences such as requiring teachers to treat minor issues as bullying.
“You’ve got these broad nets being cast,” Nienow agreed. “We may be capturing things that we may not be wanting to.”
School officials said they generally support the bill, but worried about the added cost it could bring, such as for new programs.
“We need staff to do the type of stuff you’re talking about here,” Roger Aronson of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association said.
He said school districts already are tight on time and money and need resources to address these issues.
The bill includes a grant program to help with the implementation of anti-bullying policies, and Dibble said he and others are looking into the cost of the proposal.
Many pieces of the bill stemmed from Gov. Mark Dayton’s bullying task force recommendations. Those included staff development and training and involving students, parents and the community in anti-bullying discussions
Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Rosemount, said he liked the provisions focused on training for staff so teachers and administrators are better informed when tackling bullying.
Clausen said in his time as an educator, the more difficult issue was dealing with problems happening outside school hours and off school grounds.
“I don’t believe we want to be the police out in the social media world,” he said.
The bill requires schools to address cyberbullying issues that do not happen at school if they cause a significant disruption.
The bill also focuses on support for students who are bullied and who bully, Dibble said.
“Young people bully for all kinds of reasons,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad kids.”