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Bully Proofing Michigan Schools

December 19, 2011

LANSING, Mich. - Now that Michigan has adopted an anti-bullying law, schools have six months to come up with policies to protect pupils from bullying. Many social workers and psychologists are urging schools to put some teeth into those policies. That's because the new law does not name the types of pupils who need to be protected. Since the measure does not name specific groups such as gays and lesbians, some say it includes everyone.

However, Maxine Thome, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), disagrees.

"Our response to that is, 'It's an empty bill.'"

The State Board of Education model specifies actual or perceived characteristics to be listed such as race, gender, and sexual orientation, but lawmakers rejected that model.

Thome says it will be up to activists to stay involved to make sure that school boards create strong policies that protect all students, and that the hard work is just beginning.

"They need to be talking to schools and they need to be taking an active role in assisting schools in understanding the critical issues in building much stronger policy."

The bill was named Matt's Safe School Law after 14-year-old Matt Epling, who ended his life because of severe bullying. Matt's father Kevin is scheduled to testify at school board meetings around the state to help them design their policies.

Thome says he deserves the support of others who want schools to be safe for all pupils.

"Matt Epling's father and family did a great deal of work in moving the bill forward. They really need to be recognized and applauded for the amount of energy they put in following Matt's death."

So while Thome says the bill is a step in the right direction, she urges advocates not to become complacent. She says there is a lot at stake.

"The dropout rate for LGBT youth, the attempts at suicide for LGBT youth, are significantly high."

Michigan is the 48th state to pass an anti-bullying law.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MI