By SHANNAN O’NEIL
Capital News Service
LANSING– A recent attempt to pass a statewide school anti-bullying mandate has failed, leaving Michigan as one of three states without one.
But advocates say they’ll try again with separate legislation.
In other states, anti-bullying legislation defines bullying, gives possible punishments for bullies and requires every school district to have a policy prohibiting it.
“My wife and I have a 12-year-old-son and 15-year-old-daughter,” said Sen. John Gleason, D-Flushing, who supports the policy. “I think I would hurt somebody, I seriously think I would hurt somebody if they bullied my kid.”
Any good parent has a bond with their children and would feel the same, Gleason said.
It is embarrassing that the only other states that do not have an anti-bullying law are Montana and South Dakota, he said. “As a state it should be important that we say this will not be tolerated, we will not let people hurt people,” he said.
Despite the recent failure of a bullying amendment to a charter school bill, the issue is not dead.
Rep. Philip Potvin, R-Cadillac, is pushing a separate bill that would do the same thing.
“People haven’t stepped up to accept the fact that it is a challenge in the state,” he said.
Potvin’s bill defines bullying as anything that puts another person down. It requires every complaint to be investigated and lists possible punishments.
“I hear too many stories of kids that have relied on the authorities at school and their churches to stick up for them, to help them and they haven’t done it,” he said. “I think us sitting on this law has exacerbated the problem because people just don’t think it’s important.”
Michigan has a model anti-bullying policy set by the State Board of Education for schools boards to look at while making a local policy. No school is required to use it but 80 percent of Michigan schools have an anti-bullying policy.
The Traverse City Area Public School District continuously changes its bullying policy to meet the times, said Gary Appel, vice president of the Traverse City Area Public School Board.
“It’s our intention as a board to do everything possible, to foster a climate that supports learning because that’s our business, learning,” he said.
The most recent adjustment describes bullying based on sexual orientation.
It passed 7-0.
Marjorie Rich, president of the Traverse City Area Public School Board, said there should be a law requiring anti-bullying policies in all schools. But she is wary of how far legislators will take control.
Others say a state law would bring local attention to the issue.
“I think if a law was put in place it would elevate the issue, so communities have the conversation about bullying in schools,” said Peter Spadafore, assistant director of governmental relations at the Michigan Association of School Boards.
But that’s not enough, he said.
“It requires more than a change in law, it requires a change in culture and thinking on behalf of students, teachers and parents,” he said, “to really get rid of the culture that allows for bullying.”
Most of the decisions about bullying should be left at the local level, Spadafore said. He favors a law requiring every school to have an anti-bullying policy but not one that tells them how to handle it.
“A lot of what’s going on is learned at home by bullying parents,” Potvin said. “Their children then go to school, and because of what they learn at home, bully their friends and their fellow students.”
Advocates say a state policy is needed for consistency.
“With the mobile economy a student may be in one school where they are protected and another day goes to a new school that doesn’t have a policy,” Gleason said.
Anti-bullying bills have been in the works for about 10 years but have not been passed because of a lack of leadership on the issue and concerns of local control, Potvin said.
“The good lord put us on this earth to share and care about one another,” Potvin said. “This is what it’s all about, about taking care of your neighbor and helping them instead of bullying and degrading them.“
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By SHANNAN O’NEIL