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Michigan bill gives students license to bully

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Michigan is one of three states that has yet to enact an anti-bullying law and has finally taken steps to deal with this national wave of combatting bullying. However, the Michigan legislature should be ashamed of itself. A recent bill passed by the senate and headed for the house of representatives would allow parents, students, school volunteers, fellow students’ parents, teachers, faculty, and other persons to bully another student if they are able to justify the bullying for moral or religious reasons. In other words, the Michigan senate just made it legal to bully any student and told you how to get away with it.

As a candidate for school board in my hometown, I cannot even begin to explain my disgust and outrage that the Michigan senate would even think of letting this hate bill be allowed to come up for debate on the senate floor.

The bill is called Matt’s Safe School Law. The bill takes its name from Matt Eppling, a 14 year old student in East Lansing who committed suicide after being bullied at school in 2002. As the bill is written now, Matt would still not have been safe with this bill in effect as a law.

Kevin Eppling, Matt’s father, wrote a letter to the senate Republicans saying, “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying when in fact it is a ‘bullying is OK in Michigan law.’ They have tarnished the person whom it is named after. It does not reflect our beliefs nor Matt’s beliefs.”

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says the plan creates a blueprint for bullying. In her statement as to why she voted “no” on the bill, Whitmer said to the Republicans in the senate, “You may be able to pat yourselves on the back today and say that you did something, but, in actuality, you’re explicitly outlining how to get away with it.”

“Your exceptions have swallowed the rule,” Whitmer added. “As passed today, bullying is okay.”

Senate Democrats did try to enumerate certain characteristics that would be off-limits from bullying, such as gender, race, and sexual preference. This was in attempt to weaken the bill if it passed, but Democrats were unsuccessful in the dominantly Republican senate.

Whitmer is not alone in recognizing the outrageous-ness of this bill. Michigan State Superintendent Mike Flanagan who is the chief education official in the state, said that the bill is “a joke.” In a statement, Flannagan said, “I cannot imagine any real moral conviction or religious teaching that says it is acceptable to inflict pain, humiliation, and suffering on another person, especially a child.”

“It legitimizes excuses for tormenting a student,” said Whitmer in a speech on the senate floor. “This is a Republican license to bully.”

According to BullyingStatistics.org, 77 percent of students are being bullied verbally, and of that 77 percent, 14 percent have a “severe or bad reaction to the abuse.”

This type of reaction includes poor self-esteem, depression, and anxiety about going to school. In the worst case scenarios, the bullying and abuse may lead to “bullycide,” or suicide from bullying.

We have already established that this bill allows for the further persecution of minorities by religious groups. This bill is not specifically targeting certain minority  groups, such as students struggling with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. ANY student is now vulnerable.

There is no student that is off-limits. While some may praise this as a sense of equality, there is nothing equal about this. Why are our students forced to enter into a building five days a week where they aren’t even safe? How do Republicans find it acceptable to send children into harm’s way?

“Who needs to be concerned about Sharia law when we have the Michigan Republican legislature,” asks Reverend Mary Robling of Beulah, Michigan in an interview with me on the phone shortly after the passing of the bill. “There is no “moral or religious” right to bully.”

To relate this inflammatory bill to anything associated with anti-bullying is such a fallacy that it brings shame to the state of Michigan and its government.

The Republicans in our state senate have shown such a disregard for the safety of our students that it isn’t even funny. In fact, it is enough to bring tears to my eyes that our leaders don’t care about the happiness and quality of life for Michigan students.

They should be ashamed of themselves. They have essentially advocated for more suicides and even more families to be shattered in the process of touting the beliefs of the religious reich in their overshadowing of those already feeling opressed.

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