Republican Gov. Rick Snyder urged the state legislature on April 27 to pass anti-bullying legislation, but his office declined to disclose which pieces of legislation currently pending before the legislature he supported.
“We must ensure that Michigan students’ opportunities are not diminished because we fail to provide them with a safe and secure learning environment. Forty-five states already have passed laws to address the problem of bullying in schools. It is time for Michigan to join them,” Snyder said during his special address on education in Detroit. “I am asking the legislature to pass a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that will be in place for the next school year. The bill need not tell each school how to deal with bullying, but it must require that they have clear policies to do so. The State Board of Education already has developed a model policy that every district can look to as they develop their own.”
The state legislature has been struggling to approve an anti-bullying bill for a decade. Advocates for the legislation have been clear that the law should mandate enumeration — or a clearly defined list of protected groups — while Gary Glenn and the American Family Association of Michigan have opposed enumeration, calling it part of a “homosexual agenda,” because it would list sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as protected classes.
“Gov. Snyder’s statement made clear his desire that any such legislation not dictate to local school districts how to handle the issue, but if he intended by his comments to actually endorse the state Department of Education’s current model policy, he is as misguided in promoting homosexual activists’ segregation language such as found in that policy as were the Democrats who for five years blocked passage of any anti-bullying legislation that didn’t force that language on every school district in the state,” said Glenn in an email to Michigan Messenger.
Legislation pending in both chambers of the legislature cater to either side of the debate.
And while Snyder’s hat tip to the State Board of Education model policy could be seen as a support for enumerated legislation, his spokespeople were unwilling to reveal which versions of legislation he supports.
“The Governor’s message very clearly outlines his language on this,” said Geralyn Lasher, Snyder’s communications director. “Every school must protect every student. Forty-five states already have these laws on the books and it is time for Michigan to join them. He fully intends to work with the legislature to provide a safe environment for all students.”
Despite the non-commitment on a specific piece of legislation, Snyder was very clear that action to address the problem of bullying is a necessity.
The harm caused by bullying is not under debate. Studies have long shown that it leads to low self-esteem, depression, poor academic achievement, truancy, and even suicide. School is not a house of learning for a bullying victim; it is a house of pain. A bullied student is not only being tormented; he or she is being denied an equal opportunity to a quality education.
Even the home is no longer a refuge for the bullying victim. Much of bullying today takes place on the Internet, via cell phone text services or by other electronic means. Such “cyber bullying” may not always take place on school property or during school hours, but when it is between students it must be recognized as a school issue. And because bullying is a school issue, it must be dealt with in school – before it becomes a law enforcement issue.
Many Michigan schools already have good anti-bullying policies in place and we need to ensure that every school has one. School policies cannot be designed to only cover some students – every school must protect every student. And, as adults, we need to be clear in both word and deed – bullying is always wrong.
The Republican leader in the state House took a similar position.
“While the Speaker has not taken a position on any pending legislation, he does believe protecting students from bullying in school is important,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for the Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger of Marshall. “In the past, he has not supported bills that provided special classifications of students, preferring that the bills focus on bullying in general.”
Advocates for enumerated anti-bullying legislation praised Snyder for his statement.
“I am now embarking on my eighth year of service on this issue, in some ways as long or longer than many elected officials. For any adult the old ideas of what bullying is, along with outdated thinking of special treatment, needs to be erased. The biggest problem in anti-bullying efforts are the adults, and I can only hope that when Governor Snyder says ‘comprehensive,’ he fully understands its meaning,” said Kevin Epling, co-director of Bully Police USA. Epling’s son, Matt, committed suicide following a series of bullying incidents in East Lansing. “I applaud Gov. Snyder’s address on anti-bullying and his stance that it is wrong and the adults must act. His call for a comprehensive bill is long overdue.”