November 07, 2011

>Michigan Takes A Step Backwards for Safer Schools

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Blog Post on Michigan by Alison Gill, Public Policy Manager

Michigan has been deeply divided over the issue of anti-bullying legislation for more than 10 years. As one of only three states that have failed to enact any sort of anti-bullying protection for students, Michigan lacks vital legal protections which have been shown to make schools safer for all students. The main issue which has held up passage of an anti-bullying bill is whether or not the bill should include enumeration, or a specific listing of characteristics that are frequently the subject of bullying and harassment, such as race, disability, and sexual orientation.

Why is this such a hurdle? Well it isn’t a conflict about the best way to protect students. Research has continually shown that enumeration in anti-bullying laws is critical to ensure that all students are protected from bullying and harassment. Students who attend schools with policies that enumerate categories report less bullying and harassment, less absenteeism due to feeling unsafe, more teacher intervention, and greater reporting of incidents when they do occur. Enumeration provides teachers and other educators the tools they need to implement anti-bullying and harassment policies, which makes it easier for them to prevent bullying and intervene when incidents occur. So research shows its necessary, educators agree its necessary, and common sense demonstrates it’s necessary to name the behavior that you wish to prevent.

So why is it controversial to provide specific protection? The answer is simple: Because it might benefit LGBT students. Certain lawmakers would rather provide completely ineffective protections than specifically articulate that LGBT students should not be bullied.

Never has this been demonstrated so clearly as this week when the Michigan Senate passed SB 137, cruelly named “Matt’s Safe Schools Law.” While we had been expecting them to move forward with a generic, nonenumerated bill for some time, the bill the Michigan Senate actually passed is far worse. It actually creates an exception to the prohibitions based on “sincerely held religious belief(s) or moral conviction(s).” In other words, bullying is not allowed, unless you have a “religious” reason for doing so.

Let me ask you this: What possible religious reason could you have for tormenting another student?

A “religious” right to torture other students is not only unacceptable, it is absurd. Lawmakers, educators, even the father whose son this bill was named for have spoken out against this measure. Now Michigan House of Representatives needs to hear from you—Please, if you live in Michigan, call your representative and tell them not to support this terrible bill.

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