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Bullying Billboard Baffles Hibbing Residents

Updated: 02/19/2014 5:54 PM
Created: 02/19/2014 4:50 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

Schools are cracking down on bullying, and Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill on the issue again in the upcoming session. However, a new billboard in Hibbing urges them to vote it down, and it's causing some confusion and conversation among residents.

The message is hard to miss along First Avenue in downtown Hibbing. The billboard reads “Don't betray our children. Stop the bullying bill.” That is what the Child Protection League is asking of Senator David Tomassoni.

“A little bit provocative maybe, but the goal is to get people's awareness,” Michele Lentz, the group's state coordinator, said.

Lentz said 12 similar billboards will go up around the state aimed at other lawmakers, but fighting stronger rules against bullying didn't make sense to some parents in Hibbing.

“I'm just not understanding why they want to oppose it. Like they don't want that law?” Sara Lavalier said.

She is the mother of a 5-year-old boy and supports tougher state laws on bullying.

“To put a stop to it. I mean I have a child. I wouldn't want my child to go through that,” Lavalier said.

Supporters of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act will clearly define bullying, train students and teachers on the issue, and tell schools how to respond to bullying incidents. However that oversight will hurt schools that are already focused on bullying according to Lentz.

“School districts in Minnesota are independent, and this bill repeals all of those policies whether they're working or not,” Lentz said.

She also worries the bill doesn't mandate schools to inform parents of bullying if the omission is “...in the best interest of the student.” Still, the billboard was sending the wrong message to parents.

“Well what is it teaching everyone really? That it's okay to bully or to be bullied and not stand up for yourself? I don't agree with it,” Brita Moberg said.

Senate Hearings are expected on the bill in coming weeks, and Lentz hopes the billboards will get people talking in the meantime.

The Child Protection League isn't alone in opposing the bill. Every House Republican voted against it last year. The bill doesn't lack supporters though. The state's largest teachers' union, the Minnesota PTA, and gay rights groups all want it passed.

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