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A rumor posted on Twitter. A barrage of insulting text messages. A fake Facebook profile in your child’s name. Embarrassing pictures posted without permission. Nasty emails that can reach your kid at any hour of the day or night.
These are just some of the ways that bullying has grown beyond the halls of schools and the hours when class is in session. By reaching out through technology, students can now taunt and torment each other 24/7.
And in Michigan there is nothing that school districts can do about it. At least not yet. But a bill introduced by State Senator Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, would require school districts to address cyber-bullying as part of their already mandated anti-bullying policies. It would also require districts to report their bullying statistics to the state.
Senate Bill 0074 http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%285hshkkvifgmkxu55r3crkr45%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=BillStatus&objectname=2013-SB-0074 passed unanimously in committee in early October, and is expected to pass the senate with bipartisan support.
“I started on anti-bullying efforts in 2005 when I was in the House,” Anderson said. “The thing that drove me more than anything else was the suicide of Matt Epling http://www.freewebs.com/mattepling/. Matt was a young man in the East Lansing School District who took his own life after being bullied. I met with his parents Kevin and Tammy Epling. I was reluctant to meet with them, not knowing how it would be after experiencing such a loss. But then they decided they wanted to be part of making a difference. They wanted to turn something tragic into something good. That’s where it initially came from.” He added that Kevin Epling now travels the country doing presentations about bullying prevention, and runs the website http://www.bullypolice.org to track anti-bullying legislation.
SB0074 adds on to the bullying legislation that was passed in 2011, which required districts to create anti-bullying policies. The bill was a weaker version than similar bills Anderson had introduced in years passed, but amendments can now fortify the protections.
Missing from the 2011 bill and the 2013 one is any mention of LGBT or other minority students. Anderson said he had pushed for that in the past, but it prevented him from getting bipartisan support. “Enumeration became a lightning rod,” he said. “But I’ve not given up on it. Sometimes it takes small steps to get where we need to be.”
The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) and Sen. Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights), along with several other Democrats. However there are some lingering issues of free speech.
“Trying to work with the ACLU to makes sure we address concerns they may have about free speech. It should not be a problem to address. I believe we can deal with that. Other states have similar laws, so there are examples out there of good language.”
Anderson said he encourages anyone to reach out to their legislators http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%28dod3i355rvtxg4f2hpor2l45%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=legislators to support the bills. The vote has not yet been scheduled.