HOUSTON, Minn. (WKBT) - The U.S. Department of Education rated Minnesota's anti-bullying laws the weakest in the nation just a few years ago. Since then changes have been made, and now lawmakers want Minnesota to have some of the strongest anti-bullying policies in the nation.
The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act is a hot-button issue in Minnesota. Hundreds waited in line Tuesday to take part in the first hearing of this legislative session. Similar to last year, the anti-bullying legislation was once again met with lots of support and lots of opposition. But one local school district thinks putting something in place is a good place to start.
At Houston High School, bullying is taken seriously and it's dealt with early on.
"We have a seventh-grade mentoring program and we actually, just today, worked a lot with cyber bullying. I think especially because it's a (grade) seven-to-12 building, coming in as a seventh-grader, it's really important to address bullying right away," Heather Lundberg, a senior at Houston High School, said.
But students and staff know there's no easy solution to the problem.
"It's a need that needs to be addressed nationally. I think it needs to be addressed in every school," Morty Momsen, science teacher at Houston High School, said.
Some of what the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act would do is clearly define bullying, give added protection to students more likely to be bullied, provide training for students and staff, and put specific procedures in place for staff to follow after bullying has occurred.
But opponents of the bill say the language is too specific. They're concerned that certain groups are gaining more protection from bullying than others.
"For us, the current bill is overreach. It's unfunded mandate, takes away local control, it's vague and has little support from school boards, teachers and those associations," Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said.
"I think we all want the same thing. We all want to prevent it, we all want to have everybody treated equally, it's just a matter of how we go about it. And that is what the debate is, but in the end I think we all want the same thing," Charles Rick, superintendent of the Houston School District, said.
Rick said the outcome is what's most important.
"I think if there's going to be a legislation we just need to make sure that it's something that people can support and most importantly will help prevent bullying," Rick said.
"We need support from everyone; faculty and students. If we want something to change we need everyone on board," Lundberg said.
At Tuesday's hearing Republicans tried to introduce their own bill, called Stomp Out Bullying. They said it was modeled on other successful states' anti-bullying laws and has lots of national support, but the idea was shot down by the chair of the Education Committee.
The bill will now move on to the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the Senate floor.
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