LANSING (AP) — It took Kevin Epling six years to successfully campaign for a law — named in honor of his late son — that requires Michigan school districts to have anti-bullying policies on the books.
He hopes a follow-up effort to combat bullying done through social media, texting and instant messaging will take far less time.
Lawmakers in recent days took an initial step forward with a bill that would make districts and charter schools define “cyberbullying” and include it in their anti-bullying policies. They also would have to begin reporting all bullying incidents to the state and come up with procedures to protect the confidentiality of those who report bullying.
Advocates say there is not much difference between physical bullying on the schoolyard and an incident online.
“It still shows up in school whether it’s done via technology or face to face,” said Epling, an East Lansing resident and co-director of BullyPolice USA. Epling’s 14-year-old son, Matt, killed himself after a 2002 hazing incident.
The legislation is designed to address gaps in the 2011 “Matt’s Safe School Law” and raise awareness of cyberbullying.
A recent Associated Press review of news articles found about a dozen suicides in the U.S. since October 2010 that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying. A cyberbullying expert has said the real number is at least twice that.
Democratic Sen. Glenn Anderson, of Westland, is sponsoring the bill. He is optimistic after it won bipartisan approval last week in the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee and is now pending on the Senate floor. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has opposed cyberbullying legislation in the past over free speech concerns but is OK with this measure.
Anderson said he understands educators’ concerns about the difficulty of addressing potentially numerous instances of cyberbullying that could occur off school grounds and outside school hours.