Michigan’s long-awaited anti-bullying legislation became law today when Gov. Rick Snyder signed the much-debated bill in Lansing Tuesday afternoon.
“This legislation sends a clear message that bullying is wrong in all its forms and will not be tolerated,” Snyder said in a news release. “No child should feel intimidated or afraid to come to school.”
Snyder signed the , which does not contain the for bullies who have "a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction." This exception drew national attention when introduced in the Senate version of the bill several weeks ago.
As written, the bill will require school districts throughout the state to develop anti-bullying policies within the next six months.
Districts also have to hold a public hearing on the policy and those which already have a policy that complies with the law must submit a copy to the Michigan Department of Education within 60 days after the legislation takes effect.
“I think it’s important that (the anti-bullying) message come from all aspects of society–that that is unacceptable,” said Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts. “I think the legislature doing that is a good thing. If you’re protecting kid’s rights to be treated fairly, and not be discriminated against, I think that is important–that is a good thing.”
Despite the of students who would be protected from bullying, such as LGBT students, the House bill contains only general language to protect all students rather than members of a specific group.
While many Democrats argue the bill isn’t detailed or tough enough to be effective, the consensus in Congress seems to be that the legislation is a starting point.
As a district, Chippewa Valley Schools already has a very specific anti-bullying policy in place, but Roberts said that policy will be altered as needed to meet the new law's requirements.
“We have an anti-bullying policy, which I think is pretty comprehensive, so what we’ll have to do is get guidance on what our policy should look like (based on the legislation),” he said. “We also have a lot of (anti-bullying) programs in our schools currently in place, so while I think this policy may require us to fine tune a few things, I’m pretty comfortable with what we do.”
Both Utica Community Schools and L’Anse Creuse Public Schools also address “bullying” specifically in their student codes of conduct, and though New Haven Community Schools does not address “bullying” by name, its policy on harassment does cover many of the actions that could be deemed as bullying.
While the law cannot hope to stop bullying in all its forms, counselors such as 's Lori O’Neal hope the mandated policies will and create a foundation for district-wide anti-bullying programs like Chippewa Valley's .
“I think (the legislation) is needed because kids think bullying is taking someone and shoving them in a locker,” she said, in a previous interview. “They don’t realize there are so many different forms. Kids don’t understand what bullying is–that it’s not part of everyday life.”
The law will be known as called , an East Lansing high school student who committed suicide in 2002 after being bullied.
Michigan is now the 48th state to pass such a law.
Under the new law, the policies must at least include:
- "A statement prohibiting bullying of a pupil.
- A statement prohibiting retaliation or false accusation against a target of bullying, a witness, or another person with reliable information about an act of bullying.
- A provision indicating that all pupils are protected under the policy and that bullying is equally prohibited without regard to its subject matter or motivating animus.
- The identification by job title of school officials responsible for ensuring that the policy is implemented.
- A statement describing how the policy is to be publicized.
- A procedure for providing notification to the parent or legal guardian of a victim of bullying and the parent or legal guardian of a perpetrator of the bullying.
- A procedure for reporting an act of bullying.
- A procedure for prompt investigation of a report of violation of the policy or a related complaint, identifying either the principal or the principal’s designee as the person responsible for the investigation.
- A procedure for each public school to document any prohibited incident that is reported and a procedure to report all verified incidents of bullying and the resulting consequences, including discipline and referrals, to the board of the school district or intermediate school district or board of directors of the public school academy on an annual basis."
In addition, the new law states that the legislature encourages the following:
- "Provisions to form bullying prevention task forces, programs, teen courts, and other initiatives involving school staff, pupils, school clubs or other student groups, administrators, volunteers, parents, law enforcement, community members, and other stakeholders.
- A requirement for annual training for administrators, school employees, and volunteers who have significant contact with pupils on preventing, identifying, responding to, and reporting incidents of bullying.
- A requirement for educational programs for pupils and parents on preventing, identifying, responding to, and reporting incidents of bullying and cyberbullying."