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Woodbury 'Grizzlies' take bullying-bill protest to Capitol

Woodbury resident Susan Richardson spoke out last week against provisions of the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act. (Staff photo by Mike Longaecker1 / 2
“One should not come between a grizzly bear and her cubs,” Woodbury resident Andrea Mayer-Bruestle said at the news conference.2 / 2

A Woodbury contingent added its voice to a chorus of opposition last week at the Capitol in response to anti-bullying legislation.

Three Woodbury residents took part in a news conference held by a group calling itself Grandma Grizzlies. The group took aim at various parts of the proposed Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, a bill that seeks to expand Minnesota’s current anti-bullying law, which proponents say is among the weakest in the nation.

But opponents of the new bill say it is rife with governmental overreach, contains social landmines, creates an unfunded mandate and stands to harm Minnesota’s children.

“One should not come between a grizzly bear and her cubs,” Woodbury resident Andrea Mayer-Bruestle said at the news conference.

Members of the Grandma Grizzlies group said they held the news conference after being effectively silenced when they were not allowed to testify at a Senate Education Committee hearing.

“I was denied my right to testify,” said Maple Grove resident Sue Colgrove, who described herself as the leader of the Grandma Grizzlies group.

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, sits on the Senate Education Committee and said testimony like Colgrove’s was bypassed because the committee was considering “technical and administrative” changes to the bill at the time.

The opposition group raised a number of complaints, including Woodbury resident Susan Richardson’s concern that a provision in the bill would make parental notification optional during a bullying investigation.

“Our children do not belong to our school districts or the state,” she said.

Kent said she pushed for stronger language in the bill that presumes parental notification. But, she said, it leaves some discretion to local administrators for cases when notification could put a child’s well-being at risk.

The provision allows protection in a “very small number of cases” where a call to home might provoke abuse or parents “might throw the kid out,” Kent said.

Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, said she has heard that argument, but said such instances are rare and ultimately usurps a parent’s right to know.

“Parents get really frustrated when schools think they know better on how to parent,” Kieffer said.

Opponents also targeted the possibility that reports from bullying incidents would be turned over to various governmental agencies. That provision has been temporarily pulled from the bill, Kent said, but noted that it could come back once a more streamlined data-filing system is established.

The data would be gathered in order to target issues, not children, she said.

“It’s not about the individuals,” Kent said.

Woodbury resident Steve Ellenwood also spoke at the news conference and warned that the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act would require districts to hire more school counselors, psychologists and other staff.

That could lead to millions in hidden costs, he and others said.

“(The legislation) can cause us grave problems with our school districts,” Ellenwood said.

Bully-bill opponents displayed a 1994 book, “It’s Perfectly Normal,” during the news conference, which they warn could be given to students as part of the legislation. Colgrove said the book, which, among other topics, provides blunt written and visual descriptions of changes children experience during puberty, creates “gender confusion and early sexual experimentation.”

Kent said “It’s Perfectly Normal” would not be part of any required reading under the bill, but said it’s possible local districts could decide to use the book for instruction.

Lawmakers on Wednesday, March 19, stripped out another a provision in the bill that would have withheld funding from districts that didn’t comply.

A Republican-backed alternative bullying bill has failed to gain traction in the DFL-controlled Legislature.

The bill could be taken up this week on the Senate floor. If passed, it would need to be reconciled in conference committee with a House version that passed in 2013.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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