After long fight, advocates vow to strengthen anti-bullying law

By Cynthia Price Legal News Recognizing that the school is "ground zero" for bullying, Michigan recently passed Act 241, which will require all school districts to have anti-bullying policies in place by the end of this school year. Over the last several years, as studies showed that bullying and cyber-bullying were proliferating at a rapid pace, the Michigan legislature and administration repeatedly considered what to do. Anti-bullying legislation failed in 2010, but got new life when Gov. Rick Snyder prioritized it as part of his April education reform plan. Upon signing the bill into law last month, Gov. Snyder said, "This legislation sends a clear message that bullying is wrong in all its forms and will not be tolerated. No child should feel intimidated or afraid to come to school." The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) also had praise for the new law, which is known as Matt's Safe School Law in honor of 14-year-old Matt Epling who killed himself after a physical bullying incident in 2002. "All Michigan children have the right to go to school in safe environments. where they are free to learn, grow and express themselves without fear," stated MDCR Director Daniel H. Krichbaum at the time of the signing. "The legislation signed by Gov. Snyder today is an important step in achieving that goal." As the 48th state to enact such a law, Michigan came late to the table. And even the process for passage of the current legislation was fraught with problems. After the House introduced bipartisan-sponsored bill 4163, the Senate adopted a version that differed by adding the following language: "(8) This section does not abridge the rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States or under Article I of the State Constitution of 1963 of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian. This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian." That language set off alarms for many advocates and "went viral" nationally, with some calling it a "license to bully." Katy Butler and Carson Borbely, two young students from Ann Arbor, started a petition on the open website asking people to sign if they supported asking the Senate to remove the offensive wording. Published: Thu, Jan 12, 2012

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