By Tara Cavanaugh
LANSING- On May 3, Michigan’s Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill, Senate Bill 137, that would call for schools to implement policies prohibiting bullying or harassment. But advocates say the bill is not strong enough and will not protect LGBT students.
There are two versions of an anti-bullying bill that have hung around the state legislature for the last five years. One mandates that schools list specific classes of students to protect, and includes sexual orientation and gender identity on that list. The State Board of Education supports this version. The other version does not list any specific classes.
Interestingly, in late April, Gov. Rick Snyder said he supported the version of the anti-bullying bill that the State Board of Ed. supports. But Republican lawmakers support the other version of the bill.
“Senate Bill 137 will not get the job done,” said Denise Brogan-Kator, interim executive director of Equality Michigan. “We need a bill that requires school districts to adopt policies that list protected categories and report incidents of bullying and harassment. This bill simply will not reduce bullying that our students face. Our legislature and the governor have a responsibility to pass a comprehensive policy that will be effective.”
State Republicans say that the version of the bill that is supported by Snyder and LGBT activists would offer special protections to LGBT students. Brogan-Kator disagrees. “Listing protected categories such as race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity makes our schools safer for all students,” she said. “Students in schools with such detailed policies report less bullying and harassment, are more likely to report feeling safe at school, and are three times less likely to skip a class because they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. When schools have comprehensive policies in place, staff members have the tools they need to prevent and respond to bullying.”