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Anti-Bullying Law Requires School Policy by June
Under Matt’s Safe School Law, HB 4163, public, charter and Intermediate school districts will have six months from the law’s effective date to adopt anti-bullying policies. Michigan was one of only three states without an anti-bullying law before this legislation was enacted in early December 2011.
Controversial language exempting the prohibition of “a statement of a sincerely held belief or moral conviction” of a student or school worker was not included in the final legislation. The law now demands that bullying is equally prohibited without regard to its subject matter or motivating animus.
Under Matt’s Safe School Law, a school’s policy must not only prohibit bullying, but also work to ban retaliation against a witness, informant or target of the bullying. Along with required reporting, publicizing and investigation procedures, the proposed law also demands that schools identify who at the school is responsible for ensuring policy implementation. Additionally, schools must notify the parents of the perpetrator of bullying.
The law stops short of mandating that boards require any type of staff training for the prevention of bullying, but does encourage boards to include the following in their policies:
- Provisions to form bullying prevention task forces, programs, teen courts, and other initiatives involving staff, pupils, clubs/groups, volunteers, parents, law enforcement and the community.
- A requirement for annual training for admins, employees and volunteers who have significant contact with pupils to prevent, identify and respond to bullying.
- A requirement to establish educational programs for pupils and parents.
- Immunity from a cause of action for damages arising out of the reporting itself or any failure to remedy the reported incident, excluding the school official designated for remedying the bullying.
Off-Premises and Telecommunications
It is important to note that the law defines “at school” to include buses, school sponsored activities off-premises, and conduct using a telecommunications access device or service provider if the device/provider is under control of the school district. Students using school email addresses to send messages intended to harm another pupil would be included under this law.
Bullying is defined as “any written, verbal or physical act, or electronic communication, that is intended or that a reasonable person would know is likely to harm 1 or more pupils either directly or indirectly by doing the following:”
- Substantially interfering with educational opportunities, benefits or programs of 1 or more pupils.
- Adversely affecting the ability…to participate in education /activities by placing the pupil in “reasonable fear of physical harm or by causing substantial emotional distress.”
- Having actual and substantial detrimental effect on a pupil’s physical or mental health.
Schools must report on status of the implementation of the policies one year later.
Matt’s Safe School Law is named after Matt Epling, a freshman from East Lansing who killed himself after a bullying incident by upperclassmen in 2002.
Beier Howlett attorneys have the expertise and experience in school law to draft a comprehensive anti-bullying policy which will comply with the new proposed law. For details, please contact Michael Gibbons or call (248) 645-9400.
Written by Michael Gibbons
Michigan Legislature: The Revised School Code