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Minn. students, activists rally in support of anti-bullying bill

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Scott Wasserman | Fox 9 News Scott Wasserman | Fox 9 News
Photo by Scott Wasserman Photo by Scott Wasserman
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Anti-bullying legislation took center stage at the Minnesota Capitol on Monday as students and gay rights activists rallied in support of a bill that will require schools to adopt bullying prevention policies.

OutFront Minnesota and the Safe Schools for All Coalition held a youth summit at Metro State University for 450 high school students that coincided with an afternoon rally in the Capitol rotunda to bring attention to a bill that has failed in the past and was once shut down by a 2009 veto from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

OutFront Minnesota was one of the main driving forces behind last year's same-sex marriage bill and is transitioning its focus on student rights following a string of bullying-related suicides of gay students.

The bill, titled the "Safe and Supportive Schools Act," would require all Minnesota school districts to:

1. Implement a plan to reduce bullying;

2. Designate a staff member to enforce it;

3. Adopt written policies on bullying prevention;

4. Train employees and volunteers to identify bullying, and instruct them how to "make a reasonable effort to address and resolve the prohibited conduct."

Those who rallied in support of the bill told Fox 9 News they believe success will come when students start working with students, and all the activities at the Metro State summit were student-lead efforts geared toward making schools safer, more inclusive and more empowering for students.

"When I was younger, I really struggled with fitting in," Laresa Avent, who was bullied as a child, admitted. "Kids used to be really mean to me. They didn't want to play with me, wouldn't want to talk to me at all."

Although she admits bullying once made her feel she "wasn't good enough to be friends," the high school senior stood proudly as the keynote speaker of the youth summit on bullying on Monday, and has begun her own anti-bullying campaign at her own school.

"We knew that if we wanted to change our school, we needed students to step up and be leaders," she said.

Rep. JimDavnie is a co-author of the bill, and he says his measure does have strong support; however, Republicans argue that the bull does not protect all children.

"For us, the current bill is overreach," Sen. Roger Chamberlain said. "Its unfunded mandate takes away local control, it's vague and has little support from school boards, teachers -- those associations."

Critics say some students would get labeled as bullies for expressing religious views that clash with another student's values. Yet, students like Avent say the bill gives them hope.

"I think this bill is one of the most important bills that will ever get passed, especially in Minnesota," she said. "All students deserve to feel safe."

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he supports anti-bullying laws with strong language, but he would need to review the bill before signing it. In the interim, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate could pass the bill with no Republican support if necessary, but Republicans say they want to work toward a compromise.

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