Anti-Bullying Act Signed Into Law

On April 9, 2014, Governor Dayton signed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, widely
known as the anti-bullying law. The law will apply to school districts and charter
schools beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. To comply with this new law, school
districts and charter schools will need to rewrite their anti-bullying policies and
train staff to prevent, identify, and respond to bullying.

Beginning next school year, this law requires each district to have an anti-bullying
policy with several specific points. Among the most significant, each district’s
policy must:

* Prohibit both face-to-face and online bullying between students, regardless of
where that bullying takes place. Bullying off school grounds or apart from school
activities must be prohibited if it substantially and materially interferes with a
student’s education.
* Designate a staff member at each school as the primary point of contact to
receive reports of bullying and to take action on incidents of bullying.
* Require all school employees who know of or suspect bullying “to make
reasonable efforts to address and resolve the prohibited conduct.”
* Require immediate intervention to protect the target of the bullying.
* Require an investigation of all bullying reports to begin within three school
days.
* Allow the alleged bully to have an opportunity “to present a defense.”
* Contain a “presumption” that a school official will notify the parents of both
the alleged bully and the target of the alleged bullying.

This law specifically defines bullying as “intimidating, threatening, abusive, or
harming conduct that is objectively offensive” by a student towards another student.
The specific definition of bullying is limited to conduct that is either repeated
and in the context of a perceived or actual imbalance of power, or that materially
and substantially interferes with the student’s education. However,
“[i]ntimidating, threatening, abusive, or harming conduct” includes not only
physical harm or threats of physical harm, but also violations of a “student’s
reasonable expectation of privacy,” defamation of a student, intentionally
inflicting emotional distress, or conduct directed at a student on the basis of
certain actual or perceived characteristics. The characteristics listed include,
among others, familial or socioeconomic status, “physical appearance, sexual
orientation, including gender identity and expression, [or] academic status related
to student performance.” This is a significant expansion of the definition of
bullying contained in the current MSBA model policy.

Districts must not only have a policy that complies with this new law, but must also
train all school personnel on the policy at least every three years and must require
virtually all school employees to undergo professional development on bullying.
Districts are not required to instruct students on the policy, but are “encouraged”
to do so. Further, the Minnesota Department of Education (“MDE”) is given
enforcement and rulemaking authority to address district noncompliance with the
requirements of this law, including annually reviewing policies and investigating
complaints of noncompliance.

With the provisions mentioned here, and the other requirements of the Act, we
anticipate that there will be some guidance from MDE forthcoming on how to develop
and implement district policies. Given the significant changes required, we will be
available to assist, train, and guide districts and their employees in maintaining
compliance with the Safe and Supportive Schools Act.

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Christian Shafer

About Christian Shafer

Christian Shafer is a shareholder with the firm of Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A. He earned his B.A. degree from the University of Michigan, and his J.D. degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Minnesota Law School. Mr. Shafer practices in all areas of school law, municipal, and labor and employment law and general civil litigation. Mr. Shafer is admitted to the bar in Minnesota, as well as the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a member of the Minnesota Defense Lawyers Association, Minnesota and National Council of School Attorneys, the American Bar Association, the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the Hennepin County Bar Association.