Learn how to transform big data into powerful and actionable educational insights to improve student outcomes on your campus in this Special Report.
In six months, Michigan school districts will need to adopt and submit a policy against bullying to the state Education Department.
On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Snyder signed HB 4163 into law, making Michigan the 48th state to pass an anti-bullying law. On the same day, the U.S. Education Department released an Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies.
When the report data was compiled in April, 46 states had bullying laws on the books, with Georgia passing the first law in 1999. Since then, Hawaii and Michigan added their names to the list of states with bullying laws.
Michigan spent years trying to pass anti-bullying legislation. Up until this year, the state had no law, but the Michigan State Board of Education did adopt a Model Anti-Bullying Policy on Nov. 9, 2010.
In January, Senate Bill 104 appeared on the legislative agenda in South Dakota. But the Senate Education Committee voted 3-4 to oppose the bill. In Montana, Senate Bill 141 passed the Senate 34-15. On April 28, the House killed it in a standing committee with a 34-63 vote.
The U.S. Education Department analysis cites two political challenges that have hampered legislation in these states. They include disagreement over whether to list out protected groups of people, specifically those of different sexual orientations, and whether the state legislatures should control education policy.
Michigan had its fair share of disagreements over the last number of years on both of these issues. But after the governor called for both sides of the Legislature to work together this year, they ultimately passed a bill that covered all kids and didn't specify protected classes of students.
The law requires districts to include a provision in their policies "indicating that all pupils are protected under the policy and that bullying is equally prohibited without regard to its subject matter or motivating animus."
The law defines bullying as a written, verbal or physical act or electronic communication that's likely to harm students in four ways:
If districts already have a policy in place that meets the criteria of this law, they do not need to change their policy. They just need to submit it to the state Education Department.
In the new "Matt's Safe School Law," named for a student who committed suicide on the last day of eighth grade after being bullied, school district policies will need to have procedures in place that address bullying. These procedures include the following:
From a school board perspective, Michigan's legislation will have a fairly limited impact, said Don Wotruba, deputy director with the Michigan Association of School Boards. In a survey of members three years ago, about 85 percent of the school boards already had bullying and/or harassment policies on the books.
The school boards that don't have a policy that meets the requirements of the law will need to have a public meeting and adopt a policy. Typically, Michigan school boards discuss the policy in one meeting and vote on it in a second meeting.
When districts that already have a policy in place and call the association, the association advises them to at least bring up what their policy states and ask if they want to make any changes in a public meeting. It also encourages them to look at the State Board of Education sample policy to start discussions. The sample policy does specify protected classes of students.
As school boards start to consider their policies in light of the new law, they're generally reacting positively because they think it's about time there's a spotlight on the issue, he said. But the hard part isn't creating or modifying their policies.
The hard part is getting the community and the building staff to embrace the concept behind the policy. That involves training staff, encouraging them to be involved and gaining the community's support and enforcement.
For example, if a football coach says "boys are just being boys" after hearing of a hazing incident that involved bullying, the policy didn't do any good because the coach didn't report the bullying to the board.
"We need the staff people to step outside of their comfort zone and interrupt situations that somebody or the common person would consider a bullying situation," Wotruba said. "We need to have the proper process for reporting that and the proper consequences for actions that students take in regards to bullying."
You may use or reference this story with attribution and a link to