Michigan anti-bullying bill may change amid uproar

Language in an anti-bullying bill approved by the Michigan Senate that was seen as actually allowing bullying under certain circumstances may now be changed.

The Detroit Free Press reported that Republican leaders in the Michigan House are working out a way to end the controversy after Senate Republicans inserted language in “Matt’s Safe School Law” that says the bill “does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held belief or moral conviction” of a student or school worker.

The legislation was named after Matt Epling, an honor-roll student who killed himself at age 14 in 2002 after being assaulted by school bullies on the last day of eighth grade.

The inserted language was seen by activists — and by the boy’s father, Kevin Epling — as allowing bullies to prey on other students, especially those who are gay, lesbian or transgender, and to watch someone be bullied who they think might deserve it without trying to stop it.

Michigan’s state school superintendent, Mike Flanagan, also criticized the Senate bill, which passed last week with 26 Republican votes against 11 Democratic votes.

Flanagan issued a statement that said in part: “There should never be an excuse or reason or justification for anyone to bully, intimidate, or harass a student. 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 remains to be seen, however, whether the changes that House Republicans come up with will satisfy Democrats. They not only want the inserted language dropped but additional passages added that bar bullying for specific reasons, including sexual orientation, the Free Press reported.

Government statistics show that at least a third of students ages 12 to 18 report being bullied during the school year. Most states have laws that make bullying illegal, but enforcement is scant.

Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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