Grand Ledge To Implement Anti-Bullying “Matt’s Law”

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Hannah Rodbro
Staff Writer

Sen. Rick Jones announced Tuesday, Nov. 29, that the anti-bullying bill he has been
working on all year has passed the House and Senate and is currently on the Governor’s
desk waiting to be signed.

Jones said much of his passion for the legislation came from the recent suicide of
Charlotte student Chrystal Eaton because of bullying. He also noted the bullying suffered by his son.

“Bullying is always going to be an issue,” said Jones. “It is up to parents, administrators and students to stop it.”

Jones estimated that 20 to 24 percent of Michigan schools currently do not have a bullying policy.

Law fails to address cyber-bullying

The law is also known as “Matt’s Law,” named after Kevin Epling’s son Matt who committed suicide in 2002 as a result of bullying in school.

Epling said that Michigan’s policy differs from the other 47 existing policies from other states in the limitation of wording.

“We have a law on the books that basically says we cannot ‘mandate’ to our schools
without compensation where as other states can basically say ‘you must,’ we can
say ‘shall’ or ‘encourage,’” said Epling.

In Epling’s opinion, the strongest form of bullying occurs outside the walls of
the school.

“For me the biggest omission was the gaping hole left on the issue of cyber
bullying,” said Epling. “As it stands schools only really have to take action
if an act of cyber bullying was done with school equipment. Schools need to
react quickly to any form of cyber bullying because sooner or later it will
manifest itself in the school, and usually as a far larger issue and involve
more people. Cyber bullying has taken root because schools have looked the
other way for years because most simply did not act on it and waited for
clarification if they could act.”

Epling hopes for the law to become a tool for parents and students to make positive

“Students need to understand they have the greatest power in a school to make change. The ability for a student to reach out and help another student rather than hurt
another student can be a very simple but powerful act,” said Epling.

Efforts in Grand Ledge

Grand Ledge High School Freshman Principal Jill Mangrum is an active participant in the battle against bullying.  She is currently working on a proposal for an Anti-Bullying Program.  “I spend a good amount of time working with students
and the bullying issue,” said Mangrum.

Mangrum acknowledged that the main source of the problem is the Internet. “Cyber bullying is rampant among our young people. It is most difficult to eradicate as it is conducted outside the domain of the high school building,” said Mangrum.  “Yet the issues seep into the school and the school day.  It is incredibly alarming to me what kids are saying to each other and about other students. I have seen
hate campaigns conducted via Facebook as well as threats and intimidation.”

“The only thing more disturbing is the lack parental control and concern about what their kids are doing and saying,” she said.

“We have had a board policy for years that was designed to address bullying and harassment issues. The question is, how effective is the policy?
In the age of technology policies need revision,” said Mangrum.

“Our mission is to restructure the learning environment to create a social climate characterized by supportive adult involvement, positive adult role models, firm limits and consistent sanctions for bullying behavior. Our single focus being health and dignity of every student. We will push for empathy and understanding and promote a norm that
students will be the leaders to intervention. We know that we have much to do
and would be happy to share what our plan of action is,” said Mangrum.

The mayor’s perspective

Grand Ledge Mayor, Kalmin Smith, who said he was bullied himself as a child, notes that bullying doesn’t stop when you leave school. “I do know that bullying occurs everywhere and that everyone has to deal with it through life from a young age to old age.”

In response to the new legislation Smith said, “No law will stop bullying, although I suppose some schoolyard bullies may be punished or modify their behavior as a result of the new law.”

Smith thinks that the issue could be handled without the new anti-bullying law.

“Personally I am not very impressed with laws to stop bullying,” said Smith.  “Responsible school administrators ought to be able to deal with the worst of the bullies without a state law.”

The Mayor warned that there may be a loophole in the law. “One danger of an anti-bullying law is that it could be used as a tool for bullies in positions of authority to use against other people,” said Smith.

“Learning how to stand up to bullies is part of growing up,” said Smith.  “No state law or school administrator will protect you.  But you can protect yourself if you learn to do it.”

YouTube video of bullied eighth grade student Jonah Mowry went viral almost overnight.

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