The bill approved by a 26-11, party-line vote advances to the Republican-led House — where Michigan’s decade-long debate over anti-bullying requirements will continue. Democrats argue the Senate-approved measure wouldn’t protect bullying victims and could endorse certain types of harassment.
The proposed bill would require the board of a school district to adopt and implement a policy prohibiting bullying or harassment, require the board to hold at least one public hearing before adopting its policy, require a board to submit a copy of its policy to the Michigan Department of Education, and require the state’s Department of Education to report to the state Legislature’s standing committees on education regarding the status of the policies.
Republican supporters of the latest Michigan proposal say requiring districts to develop their own policies would be a key step toward ensuring that efforts are being made to clamp down on students harassing fellow classmates.
Republicans argue all students would be equally protected under the proposal. But Democrats were angered because the bill includes a clause that it does not allow it to infringe on constitutional rights, and the legislation “does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” of a student or school employee.
Some Democrats charged that language means the measure could do more harm than good for students.
“It actually sanctions bullying,” said Sen. John Gleason, a Democrat from Flushing. “This is a blueprint for bullying.”
Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton said school districts throughout the country should be “sensitive” to any forms of bullying that occurs within their buildings.
“I think we address it effectively, but it’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement,” he said. “If the state is developing legislation that can help us improve — that’s great.”
Furton explained that if “quality legislation” is developed to strengthen current anti-bullying policies set in Michigan schools, then it could be a useful tool. However, if the legislation is being proposed because lawmakers believe “all schools are failing” at anti-bullying efforts, then it could have a negative effect.
The Grand Haven district updated its anti-bullying policy in 2007 in order to reflect specific areas that needed more focus, Superintendent Keith Konarska said. The district also has an anti-hazing policy.
“We are very supportive of anti-bullying efforts — we take it very seriously,” Konarska said this morning. “I hope they leave the legislation broad enough so local districts can develop it based on the needs in their district.”
To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.
Associated Press writer Tim Martin contributed to this story.