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Michigan Civil Rights Commission Tackles Bullies

January 24, 2011

LANSING, Mich. – School districts everywhere are trying to deal with the problem of bullying. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is holding a public meeting on the issue on Tuesday in Detroit in light of increasing reports of harassment and bullying. But some say part of the solution is already in place.

Jennifer Martin, a special lecturer in the Women's Gender Studies Department at Oakland University, is an expert on Title IX (nine), the federal law that prevents discrimination in schools based on sex. Although the law is aimed at giving women greater access to higher education opportunities, Martin says it encompasses much more than that.

"We have found through case law that Title IX protects against sexual harassment, in a variety of ways. This can include negative comments based on sex and gender; it can include sexual orientation harassment, real or perceived – so, questioning someone's sexuality, spreading rumors about someone's sexuality."

Martin says school districts in Michigan are required by law to follow guidelines provided by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and have a Title IX coordinator, although she notes many districts do not follow the requirements. As a consequence, she says, students and parents aren't always aware of the protections that are available.

"Students and parents have a recourse. They have the courts; they have the Office of Civil Rights to lodge a complaint if the school is not putting an end to this type of harassment."

In addition to the gender-related protections against bullying provided by Title IX, Martin says Title II (two) protects students with disabilities and Title VI (six) protects against racial discrimination and harassment. In Martin's view, schools need strong policies and Title IX coordinators to help resolve these problems.

Public testimony will be taken Tuesday from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., in Room L-150 at Cadillac Place, 3054 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI