A 15-year-old Cooley High student was charged with creating a disturbance in school after authorities said he wrote a list of school staff that he wanted to kill, according to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office.
Anti-Bullying Policy in Michigan
Written by Jessica Deloach
Tuesday, 04 May 2010 21:35
The goals of this policy report are to deliver and analyze the issues that come along with establishing an anti-bullying law in the state of Michigan and to subsequently deliver a recommendation on whether a law should or should not be implemented. This policy report will define bullying; in the process of the definition and terminology, there will be an overview of what the components are to this issue and the effects it has on all who are involved. Secondly, there is an exploration of both the advantages [demonstrated by the proponents of an anti-bullying law in Michigan] and the disadvantages [demonstrated by those who challenge such a law] of a direct legislative stance against bullying in schools. After an overview of current legislation that resides in the Committee on Education, recommendations will be proposed – along with an explanation as to why. The final recommendation of this work is to establish an anti-bullying law in Michigan – but there are several components that must be addressed and these components are discussed in the same section.
Bullying is a looming issue in the schools of the United States and countries all over the world. It has many implications in the lives of students, faculty and administration of schools. According to Bauman, bullying can be defined “…as a subset of aggression with three components: (a) intent to harm, (b) repetition, and (c) a power imbalance between the bully and the target or victim. Bullying is distinguished from conflict by unequal power between the persons involved” [Bauman, p. 363]. There are different manners in which bullying has been described, but this is the most thorough and touches also on the differences that exist between simple conflict and bullying. Bullying has been a part of the lives of children for a significant amount of time but the attention that has been directed towards it has significantly increased in the last twenty years. Beginning in 1989, there was a noted increase in violence in schools, including verbal harassment, threats of harm and violent crime. There was also a dramatic series of school shootings between 1995 and 1999; deadly violence within schools caused fear in the public – including verbal harassment, threats of harm, and violent crime [Law Library]. As a result, legislation has been considered as a solution – legislation would require school faculty to confront issues of bullying and its connection with suicides, while further investigating these instances as well. It would also set up some sort of guidelines that would demand that schools teach about the prevention of bullying along with its dangers. According to New York Times, currently, forty-one states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength [The New York Times]. Michigan is one of the states that does not have an anti-bullying law although there have been several attempts to pass legislation in both the House and Senate. Although Michigan does not have a law regarding anti-bullying, it does have a policy, which is second best to having a mandated law. Unlike laws, once policies are implemented, each association or organization can revise or delete policy without repercussions.
Proponents of establishing a law, in place of anti-bullying policy, have numerous reasons that they deem important. Primarily, it is important to discuss the consequences that bullying has on the lives of a range of individuals. The direct consequences of bullying include, but are not limited to, threats to school safety, increased dropout rates, suicide and school shootings. The sort of environments that are created as a result of bullying lead to a very inhospitable environment, it is also difficult to learn and retain information if a student is in a constant state of fear or intimidation. There have been numerous studies to measure how safe or unsafe children feel in schools. In a particular study conducted by Astor, Meyer and Pitner, students were asked if there were places in their school that they considered to be unsafe or dangerous. Those who answered consistently identified at least one area where they felt unsafe. This particular study was conducted with two different groups – elementary and middle school students. After analysis, it was discovered that middle school students were more likely to feel unsafe in school, with a p-value less than 0.5. Upon further investigation, the most dangerous and unsafe locations in schools were usually areas that were lacking of adults and were over-crowded. Here is one statement from this study, a sixth grade middle school student stated that the most dangerous place in his/her school was: “Uh, the locker rooms ‘cause there don’t need to be no one in there but the kids and no cameras, no nothing, just the kids. And that’s when kids fight, and nobody really finds out unless you go and tell, and ain’t nobody gonna break it up” [Astor, pg. 521]. This study demonstrates that although there are bullying problems at all levels of one’s education, they are significant at the middle school level.
House Representative Glenn Anderson has been one of the strongest supporters of an establishment of anti-bullying legislation in Michigan. One of the greatest issues when implementing this legislation is whether or not there needs to be a list of all who are protected by this legislation or if it should be a generalized law. In response to this issue, Anderson has been quoted as saying that: “We’ve got to build a strong coalition of all groups and make it clear that this is for the protection of all children – they [LGBT kids] are on the receiving end more than other kids – but it’s for the protection of all children across the state of Michigan” [Gutterman]. LGBT is a descriptive acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. As is noted by Rep. Anderson, these children are increasingly targeted by bullies because of their sexual orientation. Proponents of this legislation take note that although this group is harassed more frequently than other groups, the need for this legislation does not stem solely from this group, rather from the harassment and bullying of all students, regardless of their age, sex, gender or sexual orientation. Individuals from every point on the spectrum of students face this obstacle in our nation’s schools. According to The National Youth Violence Prevention Center,
“Almost 30% of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved as bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both. In a recent national survey of students in grades 6-10, 13% reported bullying others, 11% reported being the target of bullies and another 6% said that they bullied others and were bullied themselves” (National Youth Violence Prevention Center).
Although these statistics are alarming, it is also important to take into account the margin of error that is plausible in this study. There exists a discrepancy due to the outstanding factor that many students are less prone to admit that they are bullies or that they have been bullied themselves. Therefore, the existence and presence of this behavior is possibly much more frequent than is reported. This data is used by proponents of anti-bullying legislation because of the fact that it demonstrates the presence of this behavior in the lives of almost 1 in 3 students.
To discuss further the issue of enumeration in proposed legislation, proponents of anti-bullying legislation demonstrate that although enumeration does work to ensure the safety of protected classes, it also “…does not create special groups or privileges; rather, it provides safety in a way that research has shown is essential for protecting all students…Safe schools legislation that affords the strongest protections through enumeration and mandated training programs should be the standard for the rest of the country” [The Michigan Messenger, GLSEN]. Supporters clarify that although an enumerated piece of legislation would direct protected classes, its results have shown that the use of enumeration is necessary in order to protect all students – whether they are associated with these protected classes or not.
Proponents of anti-bullying legislation believe that, according to Sheppard Kellam, “…what is needed is a better understanding that violent, bullying, and physically aggressive behavior is associated with low achievement and with risk factors for drug abuse and further bad behavior” [Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Advisory Committee]. Bullying has been correlated, by proponents of anti-bullying legislation, with low academic achievement. As was discussed above, victims experience a wide range of feelings due to the presence of bullying and some of those include avoidance, withdrawal, skipping school, avoiding places at school, running away, suicide, and aggressive behaviors – such as bringing weapons to school for self-defense or retribution [Batsche & Knoff]. All of these characteristics of victims have the potential to be extremely detrimental to a student’s education, resulting in poor academic performance. Proponents wonder if it is possible for these things not to affect academics. According to the same study, 90% of students who were bullied reported a drop in school grades. There also seems to be a significant, negative correlation between intelligence and level of victimization for males [Batsche & Knoff]. These data support the idea that advocates of anti-bullying legislation have attempted to permeate into the minds of legislators – there is a strong, significant connection between the existence of bullying and low academic performance of victims of this behavior.
Although it is difficult to determine to what extent the government should become involved in these issues, in the opinion of advocates of anti-bullying legislation, it is imminent that a firm stance is taken on this issue in order to prevent the repercussions that have been demonstrated to occur. In an interview conducted with Watervliet High School [Michigan] Greg Chisek, he states that “Our biggest problem is bullying on the Internet and the main issue becomes: when does the Constitution come into play; with freedom of speech, etc.?” [DeLoach]. As Mr. Chisek states, and as is a recurring problem in the implementation of legislation – how far do the schools involve themselves in these issues. It is difficult to determine where this line is drawn but Chisek is also quoted as stating that:“Watervliet follows the state policy. Here at WHS, we do not have any major cases of kids going out and [bullying] so badly without our knowledge. We go after it at the middle and high school level; we do not ignore [bullying] because we know it can be dangerous to the kids nowadays” [DeLoach]. As Principal Chisek notes in his statement, Watervliet High School has implemented the policy that has been established by the state government. He also recognizes in this statement the necessity that exists for administration to tackle bullying head on and to go to the source of the problem immediately. Although Watervliet High School does this, proponents will recognize that not all schools follow the guidelines as strictly. Therefore, in their opinion, it is imminent that a law be passed so that these guidelines are mandated at the state level and are implemented on a broader spectrum – more specifically, that they are implemented at all school levels statewide.
According to Batsche, bullying “…may be the most prevalent form of violence in the schools and the form that is likely to affect the greatest number of students” [Bauman, pg. 362]. Despite this fact, there are still opponents to an anti-bullying legislation implementation in Michigan. There are many arguments as to why the proposed legislation would be futile or an outright breach of the government. For example, an article in “Psychology Today,” addresses some of the reasons in which the author believes that anti-bullying legislation is preposterous. Izzy Kalman is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and therefore has experience in this realm of education. In his article, he critiques the fact that schools can be held liable for the results of bullying. In this critique, he discusses the fact that children pick on each other – both in the home and at school. It is difficult for parents to control this aspect of their children – he implies the cliché that “kids will be kids.” Furthermore, he questions the logic behind the liability being that of the schools: “How would you like to be held legally responsible for making your kids stop bullying each other? How would you like to be tried in court and possibly be forced to pay settlements of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars because you failed to stop your children from making each other miserable” [Kalman]. In other words, Kalman believes that it is near impossible for a teacher or administrator Kalman a school to have the ability to control twenty to thirty children and ensure that they are not tormenting each other.
Another point that opponents of this legislation use to demonstrate their perspective is the fact that there already exist pieces of legislation that are directed at crimes that are associated with bullying. In a TIME article, Darrell Dawsey states: “I wonder how much more we need to add to already-existing laws designed to prevent and punish these kinds of cruel and unrelenting attacks. I don’t doubt the intentions of anyone who backs such laws, but I do wonder at what point it becomes feel-good grandstanding rather than effective legislative remediation” [Dawsey]. While Dawsey understands that bullying is a very important issue that needs to be addressed, he also realizes that all of the components of anti-bullying legislation are existent in law already. He says that “…there are already laws against harassment, stalking, assault, battery and any number of other terrible acts that could be construed as bullying” [Dawsey]. This is one of the strongest arguments against this type of legislation – there is no reason to take further legislative action, rather school administrators and officials should be motivated by the tragedies that have been realized in the past and attempt to protect young people and become involved in halting bullying instances in their schools.
Specifically, in the state of Michigan, Senator Wayne Kuipers has discussed the problems that the Legislature is having in attempting to define the term bullying and what it includes. According to Kuipers, “If you can’t come up with a clear and meaningful definition, what you essentially create is an employment act for attorneys, because parents will sue districts because their interpretation may not match the school district’s interpretation of what bullying is” [The Michigan Messenger 2]. The need for a concise definition of bullying and what is entailed in this terminology is a very important aspect of anti-bullying legislation. Without this, there is no clear line drawn as to what constitutes bullying and the involvement of school administrators and officials and what they are to keep out of.
Finally, some individuals oppose the enactment of Michigan’s anti-bullying legislation because of its association with a “homosexual agenda.” According to Todd Heywood,
“…the sticking point [is] whether or not to enumerate…protected categories. Conservative lawmakers had opposed the enumeration because it included sexual orientation and gender identity and/or expression…the American Family Association of Michigan…argued the inclusion of those categories would result in forwarding the so-called ‘homosexual agenda’” [Michigan Messenger 2].
Those who challenge this legislation that enumerates protected categories are not against anti-bullying legislation but they are against the way that it is being constructed in Michigan. These individuals support an anti-bullying law that protects all children – with no specific mention of certain groups. According to Gary Glenn, president of AFA-Michigan, “Aside from once again using a Christian holiday to promote her homosexual activist allies’ political agenda, the fact is that Jennifer Granholm could have signed a comprehensive all-inclusive anti-bullying bill into law years ago that would have prohibited all bullying against all students for all reasons, period” [AFA website]. This declaration demonstrates the aforementioned statement; many of these opponents are stringently opposed to the listing of protected classes in the proposed Michigan legislation.
In this section of the policy report, the current legislation that is in Michigan will be briefly overviewed and analyzed. The following bills were introduced in 2009 and were referred to the Committee on Education, where they remain. The bills include SB 0159, SB 0275, HB 4580 and HB 5093. Now, each of these bills will be explained and analyzed in further detail; demonstrating their similarities and differences.
SB 0159 was introduced by Senator Glenn Andersen, while HB 5093 was introduced by Representative Rebekah Warren – both in 2009. These bills are the same but are the House and Senate versions of identical legislation. These pieces of legislation, if adopted, would be known as “Matt’s Safe School Law.” This legislation defines bullying and sets up guidelines that schools must follow in the instance of bullying. It also requires that there be policy set up that prohibits the act of retaliation against individuals who inform administrators of instances of bullying. This legislation, if passed, would also state that:
“A school employee who promptly reports an incident of harassment or bullying to the appropriate school official designated by the school district’s or public school academy’s policy, and who makes this report in compliance with the procedures in the policy prohibiting harassment or bullying is not liable for damages arising from any failure to remedy the reported incident” [Michigan Legislature].
This section of the legislation is important because it strips the liability that school employees can possibly face as a result of bullying. Although it strips this liability, it also demonstrates that the teacher is not liable for damages arising from bullying so long as there was not a failure to remedy the reported incident.
“Is based on a pupil’s actual or perceived religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, height, weight, gender identity, socioeconomic status, or any other distinguishing characteristics or is based on association with another person who has or is perceived to have any of these characteristics” [Michigan Legislature].
This particular aspect of the law is significant because it enumerates protected categories of students. This is where opponents of the legislation experience difficulty in supporting its passage. The fact that it must list separately all of the different characteristics is problematic because of the so-called “homosexual agenda” that was mentioned previously.
Senate Bill 0275 was introduced in 2009 by Senator Ron Jelinek and HB 4580 was introduced by Representative Pam Byrnes in the same year. They are the House and Senate versions of the same bill and therefore have the same sections and requirements. These proposed legislations are very similar to the previous Senate Bill, aside from the fact that they do not list protected categories of students. SB 0275 and HB 4580 also do not protect school officials from liability issues, even if the school official attempts to correct or report bullying issues.
As is expressed in the description of the above bills, SB 0275 and HB 4580 are the same bills yet they are simply the House and Senate versions of the bill. The same is the case with SB 0159 and HB 5093. The main difference between these sets of bills is the enumeration section and the removal of liability from school officials who report and attempt to correct bullying instances.
According to Kathy Christie, in West Virginia,
“county boards are required to design and implement prevention and response programs, to outline investigatory and reporting procedures, and to delineate penalties for violations of these policies…Any form of harassment, intimidation, bullying, substance abuse, violence, or other policy violation is unacceptable in West Virginia schools. Other states have anti-bullying laws, but this is one of the most comprehensive” [Christie, pg. 646].
As is shown in this statement, it is imminent that when developing this legislation it be very comprehensive and concise in the definition and the implementation of this issue.
There are numerous criterions that must be met in the policy that is recommended by this analysis. For example, the legislation must contain a section that comes up with a strategy that involves “establishing clear class rules against bullying; contingent responses (praise and sanctions); regular class meetings to clarify norms against bullying; improved supervision of the playground; and teacher involvement in the development of a positive school climate” [Anderson, pg. 344]. Schools in Norway, in a study conducted in the 1990s, had established these characteristics to their law and the program reduced bullying by 50%. Therefore, it is important at the local level for each school to individually establish an acknowledgement of the dangers of bullying – for both the students and the administrative officials. It is also very important for teachers and other school officials to supervise students and to become more involved in their relations serving as a sort of enforcer of these policies. Many schools already have these sorts of practices instilled in their curriculum, but they are not mandated by law and are therefore optional to a certain degree. In the interview that was conducted with Principal Greg Chisek, he stated that “We have programs in the school now for positive behavior - we talk to kids. We had an assembly earlier in the year where we talked about bullying and its implication” [DeLoach]. As Chisek emphasized throughout the entire interview, intervention and administration involvement are key in the success of anti-bullying legislation and policy. In the same article, Anderson states that
“Research also documents the value of administrative steps that establish special programs for troublesome students, clarify school rules, and generally transform a school culture of disorder to one of control. The most ambitious and creative responses mobilize both the school and its surrounding community to identify specific safety problems and develop practical ways to address them” [Anderson, pg. 320].
Along with the guidelines that are instituted by the schools, it is important that there is support from the surrounding community. Therefore, an establishment of programs outside of schools will contribute to identifying safety problems and finding solutions to these issues.
According to Perry A. Zirkel, “…such effects are worthwhile simply because, whether it results in grave physical injury or not, bullying is bad – bad for the victims, bad for the perpetrators, and bad for civil society. As part of their basic mission as purveyors of values, public schools must teach and enforce rights over wrongs” [Zirkel]. Although many individuals argue against the implementation of such a policy, this analysis has lead to the fact that no matter which perspective this issue is viewed from, bullying is dangerous for everyone. Therefore, it is necessary that a law be established to highlight the attention that should be paid to its consequences – both direct and indirect.
Most importantly, there exists a recommendation to establish anti-bullying legislation because of the fact that the act of bullying – whether the victim is white, black, bisexual, female, etc. – has very detrimental effects on the lives of students. The purpose of American schools is to provide each and every child with a sufficient education. With ignorance of bullying and a lack of prevention of this issue, children are unable to learn. An environment of fear and intimidation is far from hospitable for students.
BULLIES AND THEIR VICTIMS: UNDERSTANDING A PERVASIVE PROBLEM IN THE SCHOOLS. George M. Batsche & Howard M. Knoff (1994). School Psychology Review, 23, 165 – 175.
Bullying: A Matter of Law? Author(s): Perry A. Zirkel Source: The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 85, No. 1 (Sep., 2003), pp. 90-91 Published by: Phi Delta Kappa International Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20440511 Accessed: 26/04/2010 23:32
Curriculum, Culture, and Community: The Challenge of School Violence Author(s): David C. Anderson Source: Crime and Justice, Vol. 24, Youth Violence (1998), pp. 317-363 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147587 Accessed: 26/04/2010 23:00
Elementary and Middle School Students' Perceptions of Violence-Prone School Subcontexts Author(s): Ron Avi Astor, Heather Ann Meyer, Ronald O. Pitner Source: The Elementary School Journal, Vol. 101, No. 5 (May, 2001), pp. 511-528 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1002121 Accessed: 26/04/2010 23:13
Stateline: State Policies for the Nitty-Gritty of School Life Author(s): Kathy Christie Source: The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 84, No. 9 (May, 2003), pp. 645-646 Published by: Phi Delta Kappa International Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20440450 Accessed: 26/04/2010 23:21
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The thoughts, opinions, and positions represented herein are solely those of the participating students and in no way represent an official position or policy recommendation of Michigan State University.