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All School Districts to Have Anti-Bullying Policies

Posted on December 9th, 2011 by Shawn Bultsma

I received the following email that I would like to share with the greater public community.  The announcement of Matt’s Safe School Law brings to fruition the work of many child and student advocates who would like to bring an end to bullying as documented in my blog from March 2, 2011 and told in a summary that I provided in the Fall 2008 issue of Colleagues magazine (pp. 8-9).

The announcement of signing Matt’s Safe School Law posted below gives you an excellent overview of where we have been to get this legislation passed as well as some direction for next steps as schools begin to develop policies to put an end to bullying in schools.  At this stage, my hope is that education professionals will utilize the unique skills of school counselors to provide input into the policies that are developed in schools, and that school counselors will be central to the solution of preventing and responding to bullying.  Be assured that the Michigan School Counselor Association (MSCA) will be advocating for the role of school counselor as it relates to these next steps!

From Mia McNeil:

Parents, Snyder, Lawmakers Emotional As Anti-Bullying Bill Signed

Before an emotion-charged room jammed with parents, children and other interested parties, Governor Rick Snyder brought to an end one of the more rancorous issues to surface in the Legislature this year when he signed a bill that requires all school districts to have anti-bullying policies.

In signing the bill, Mr. Snyder spoke of his own experiences with bullying in which he said he was beaten up repeatedly for being a nerd in elementary and middle school, with bullying continuing against him into college.

“I was a victim of bullying. I was bullied because I was a nerd. There’s a surprise for many of you. I was beaten up in elementary school. I was beaten up in middle school. … I got pushed around and shoved around in high school and actually in college for being a nerd. And it’s not right. You can see truly how severe the consequences can be, so I’m very proud to be part of this process.”

Mr. Snyder was flanked in a room at the Capitol by the parents and relatives of several children who committed suicide as a result of bullying. Some of the parents cried as Mr. Snyder and legislators spoke. When Kevin Epling, the father of Matt Epling, who committed suicide after getting tormented by bullies, choked up when reading off the names of children who had killed themselves as a result of bullying, Mr. Snyder patted his shoulder to comfort him.

MinorityLeader Gretchen Whitmer was emotional while listening to the parent of a bullied child who committed suicide.

The signing of the bill was the culmination of years of effort by anti-bullying activists to get the state to push all districts to have such policies in the wake of children committing suicide after relentless bullying. Mr. Snyder had called for the legislation in his special message on education in April and he made a point of thanking former Sen. Buzz Thomas, a Detroit Democrat who started the push for the legislation some 10 years ago.

As legislators and parents crowded behind Mr. Snyder to pose for a photo with the signed bill (HB 4163, PA 241), some smiled, some looked deadly serious and some were clearly straining to hold back their emotions.

Mr. Snyder called the legislation long overdue.

“Although the process doesn’t happen quickly sometimes, it’s good to see results,” he said. “This is something hopefully that will raise the standard, the bar across the state of Michigan and bring recognition from all our school districts on this very important topic.”

On hand for the ceremony were Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), who had sponsored similar legislation in the Senate, and Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing). Democrats, led by Ms. Whitmer, had excoriated Senate Republicans for initially altering the bill to say a student could not be punished for bullying for expressing his or her religious beliefs. But that flap, which drew national attention, seemed put to rest.

Mr. Epling said now the hard work begins as school districts will need to implement these policies with the help of teachers, staff and students. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Phil Potvin (R-Cadillac), said, “Please all of you, when see it, when you hear it, stop it.”

The legislation didn’t completely satisfy advocates. There is considerable worry that by not specifically stating in the bill the types of groups protected from bullying, especially gays and lesbians, that will prompt some school officials to look the other way. But Mr. Snyder said the law sets the right foundation.

“This legislation addresses the issue the right way,” he said. “I think it addresses all circumstances. … Bullying is bullying and should not happen under any circumstance.”

Mr. Epling said the bill may not have everything advocates want, but it is a “firm foundation” to set.

“We knew we had to make a difference because of what Matt went through,” he said. “We didn’t know it was going to take six years. But we stuck with it.”

 

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