Thursday, November 10, 2011

House Passes Matt's Safe School Law

Michigan's State House of Representatives approved today House Bill 4163 which amends the Revised School Code to include a section known as Matt's Safe School Law.

The State Board of Education asked districts to adopt anti-bullying policies in 2001, and issued a model policy for them to emulate in 2006 in response to ten reported cases of bullying-related suicides in Michigan in the last decade.

Michigan is one of three states without anti-bullying laws. The Senate passed SB 137 on November 3 which has received national attention. The House bill does not include the inflammatory language from the Senate Bill known as the "religious exemption". We are taking a new approach. This bill does not give anyone an excuse to bully anyone else.  It protects every student -- and their rights. The religious exemption is legally unnecessary and would only cause confusion.  The First Amendment protects the people’s right to talk about their religious faith or moral beliefs and always will.  No bill can undo that, and no bill could add to it.

The House bill also does not enumerate specific groups for special protection. That is, the bill does not include language specifying race, religion, socio-economic status, disability or sexual orientation in the definition of bullying. Everyone is equally protected from bullying because bullying anyone is wrong.  When you start listing reasons why someone can’t be bullied, you open the door to reasons they can be.

This bill requires schools to come up with solid plans within six months of the bill becoming a law to prevent bullying and create safe learning environments equally for all of our children.

The bill creates a three step process for public school districts, ISDs and PSAs in Michigan:

  • Districts must hold at least one public meeting about a potential anti-bullying policy.
  • Districts will then approve and adopt a policy tailored to their students.
  • That plan will be submitted to the Michigan Department of Education.

The bill defines bullying as abuse that interferes with the victim's ability to take part in education opportunities and other benefits and programs offered by the school.  It includes actions that place victims in reasonable fear of physical harm or emotional distress. The policy applies on school premises, school buses and off-site school activities. Existing school policies are grandfathered in if they meet the requirements of the bill. 

Every student deserves the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe environment, without the fear of physical and emotional harm.  We can give them that opportunity with this bill.

This bill brings many different groups with many different priorities together to do the right thing and put an end to bullying.  We are finding consensus and coming together to get this done for Michigan's children. Our children deserve no less.

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