Why the Safe Schools for All Bill is Necessary
Current bullying and harassment laws in Minnesota are not strong enough and do not explicitly protect all students. One current law requires school districts to have a policy that prohibits harassment based on sex, race and religion. Another law requires districts to have a bullying policy, but does not specify any details about what the policy should include.
Students with certain characteristics are subject to higher rates of bullying and harassment than others. For example, students with disabilites, immigrant students, students who identify as LGBT or have LGBT parents, or who have certain physical characteristics are at higher risk of being bullied at school.
Courts have held that the best way to protect these students is to provide a clear declaration in laws and policies that discrimination and harassment based on these characteristics is prohibited. As the Supreme Court of the United States has explained: “Enumeration is the essential device used to make the duty not to discriminate concrete and to provide guidance for those who must comply.” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996).
Research also supports enumeration, the explicit listing of specific groups, in laws and policies. Studies show that students in schools with express protections in their policies experience less bullying and harassment and are more likely to report that school staff effectively intervened compared to schools without express protections. States with comprehensive (enumerated) safe schools legislation saw significant decreases in the frequency of verbal harassment based on sexual orientation in over a five year period. There were no significant changes over time among students from states with generic bullying laws (that do not enumerate protected categories) and those with no laws whatsoever. Furthermore, there were no differences between students from states with generic laws and those with no laws in the reported frequency of verbal harassment and both were significantly higher than students from states with comprehensive safe schools legislation.
Minnesota’s bullying law is generic and the harassment law only enumerate sex, race and religion, leaving out other characteristics that are often the target of harassment, including disability, national origin, sexual orientation and physical characteristics.
The Safe Schools for All Bill protects all students, while making protections explicit for students with characteristics that are most often the target of bullying and harassment. It would protect students from bullying and harassment on the basis of, but not limited to, actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, and physical characteristics, and association with a person or group who one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics. The bill also ensures that educators are trained on bullying and harassment prevention and intervention.