Archive | January, 2012

New Anti-Bullying Bill Introduced in House

27 Jan

As Jennifer Brooks notes in the Star Tribune’s ‘Hot Dish Politics‘ blog, a new bill, H.F. 1953, was introduced on Jan. 26, 2012 in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

The bill proposed to modify language currently under Minn. Stat. § 122A.60, and define “bullying” as “conduct that occurs in a school, on school district or charter school premises, in a district or charter school owned or leased school bus or school vehicle, or at any school or school district sanctioned or sponsored activity or event and that:

(1) is so severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive that it substantially interferes with the student’s educational opportunities;
(2) places the student in actual and reasonable fear of harm;
(3) places the student in actual and reasonable fear of damage to property of the student; or
(4) substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school.”

Plenty of room for individual interpretation in this language, it would seem.

It’s also worth noting that the bill includes a subsection stating that “‘Conduct’ includes the use of technology or other electronic media.”

The bill would also require that each school district come up with a “Bullying Prohibition Policy” to prevent acts of bullying, as well as retaliation against victims of bullying and individuals who witness, report, or provide information about acts of bullying. Each district is supposed to create their own definition for what constitutes an act of bullying that “at least encompasses the conduct described” in the bill (see above). Each individual district is  free to draw more strict definitions of bullying as they see fit.

The individual school districts are also required to establish procedures for reporting and documenting alleged acts of bullying and include procedures for anonymous reporting of such acts. The bill also requires that school districts notify law enforcement if they have a “reasonable suspicion that a crime might have occurred.”

From a free speech perspective, there are few things I find particularly interesting with this bill: First, that the bill includes the use of electronic communications. How would this bill apply to a “bullying” text message or e-mail sent from a student’s home that is received by another student at at school activity? Second,  that school districts are given the opportunity to draft individual policies that might, at least in theory, define any form of perceived offensive speech or activity, no matter how mundane, as “bullying.” Third, the requirement that a school district must notify law enforcement any time it thinks a crime “might” have occurred.

Brooks provides some helpful context on the proposed legislation, including that the bill was first proposed by Attorney General Lori Swanson, and that one of the bill’s authors, Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, comes from a district “shaken by an outbreak of student suicides in recent years – including some youngsters who had been tormented by bullies before their deaths.” Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, is co-author of the bill.

Brooks also notes that Minnesota’s current anti-bullying statute is 37 words long and “one of the briefest in the nation.” H.F. 1953 has been referred to the Committee on Education Reform, and you can track its progress here. No hearings are currently scheduled. According to Brooks, the bill’s supporters are working to line up Senate sponsors now.
In any case, we here at the Void have this bill on our radar. We’ll keep you posted.
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New Anoka-Hennepin Controversial Topics Proposal

24 Jan

The new proposal takes out the “controversial topics” terminology and instead frames the issue as

Political, religious, social, or economic issues may become contentious in a learning environment in which conflicting views are held by a broad segment of people in our schools, our community, and the nation.

This nicely tautological statement (issues about which there is contention in the community may become contentious issues) is followed by a policy that is non-committal at best:

It is not the District’s role to take positions on these issues. Teachers and educational support staff shall not attempt in the course of their professional duties to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint with respect to these issues.

Curricular discussions of such issues shall be appropriate to the maturity and developmental level of students; be of significance to course content; and be presented in an impartial, balanced and objective manner, allowing respectful exchange of varying points of view. Lessons shall be designed to help students think critically and develop decision-making skills and techniques for examining and understanding differing opinions.

In the course of discussions of such issues, district staff shall affirm the dignity and selfworth of all students, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex/gender, marital status, disability, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, age, family care leave status or veteran status.

It seems that as written the policy would not allow a science teacher to argue for the existence of evolution,  a Drama teacher to argue for the value of Tony Kutchner’s work, or a sex ed. teacher to argue for the use of condoms when engaging in premarital sex.  They instead must present these issues “in an impartial, balanced and objective manner.”

The school district is in something of a catch-22.  If it over-defines the issue it ends up making a policy that is specifically offensive to some particular group; if it under-defines the issue, it either ends up with something meaningless or which presents a broad threat to free speech and quality education.

Here at Void, we will be on the edge of our seats waiting for a resolution.

See also: Alternative Proposal

It’s Legislatin’ Time!

24 Jan

Our friends over at the Minnesota legislature kick off the 2012 legislative session at noon on Tuesday, and there’s been some rumblings about a few proposed bills that effect government access. Because we here at the Void are intrigued by the concept that sunshine is the best disinfectant, I’ve summarized a few tidbits below, for y’all’s enjoyment:

MPR ran a blurb today about how the Department of Administration is apparently set to propose some legislation to clarify how cities and government agencies classify information about elected officials. Some commentators are on records as saying the proposal don’t go far enough. Apparently, the department is still working on language for the legislation and hopes to introduce a bill this session.

Meanwhile, in less transparency-friendly developments, the Strib ran a piece today about how, apparently, “Minnesota law-enforcement officials plan to ask the Legislature this year for the right to collect intelligence information on suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals without having to disclose who they are monitoring or why.”

Yipes!

According to the story, the cops are saying that withholding this kind of information from public view is “essential to ensuring public safety,” and that agencies outside Minnesota are reluctant to share intelligence data with police here because it could become public under current state law.

Once again, no specific bills  have yet been filed.

We here in the Void will do our best to monitor this legislation and post bills as they become available so you folks can call your legislators and let them know exactly how you feel, in a constructive way.

Jones Opinion Issued

23 Jan

One of the biggest 4th amendment cases in years. Sotomayor hints at a substantial change to the Katz framework. Namely,

it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.

The case involved a GPS tracking device placed on car. The majority found that the placement of the device constituted a search, while the concurrence (and, sort of, Sotomayor who joined the majority but wrote a separate concurrence) based their opinion on a reasonable expectation of privacy and would have suppressed the evidence even if there had been no physical trespass to place the device.

Seems like the Supreme Court might be preparing to create a coherent jurisprudence for search and seizure for a digital age. As Matt Drudge would say… Developing…

Friday Round-Up

13 Jan

Department of Justice Weighs in on Recording Police

12 Jan

The DOJ takes the side of citizens in the ongoing debate over the right of the public to record on-duty police officers. The DOJ states:

“The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution… They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily”

It is rare to see the federal government argue to reduce its own powers.

Minnesota Supreme Court Roundup

11 Jan

The Court issued only one opinion today. In  State v. Ferguson, a drive-by-shooting case in which the defendant shot six times at a home where there were eight people, the Court ruled:

 For purposes of the rule that a defendant may not be sentenced for more than one crime for each victim, an offense for a single count of drive-by shooting at an occupied building does not constitute an offense for each building occupant.

but also that

The district court did not err when it sentenced respondent on the drive-by shooting at an occupied building conviction and eight second-degree assault convictions because a single sentence for drive-by shooting at an occupied building is not commensurate with respondent’s culpability for using a dangerous weapon to intentionally cause eight persons to fear immediate bodily harm.