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Lawmakers expected to approve statewide anti-bullying proposal


LANSING, MI (MPRN) - Michigan is one of just three states without an anti-bullying law to protect students in K-12 schools. The state Legislature is expected to approve a proposal this week that would require all schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.

Experts and students say it's time to have a law in place as bullying in schools becomes a growing concern.

Samantha Torres is an eighth grader at Slauson Middle School in Ann Arbor. She recently wrote a letter to Governor Rick Snyder, urging him to consider the concerns of students as he looks at anti-bullying proposals. In the letter, Torres says teachers and adults do not know the extent of bullying in schools.

"With the more physically bullying, people are pushed around in hallways a lot, people get into fights that are pretty brutal in the end," Torres says. "People just use their words too to hurt other people and most of that is when the teacher isn't watching or there is no teacher."

Torres says she and her friends have been bullied before. She says she is a very religious person and a classmate once told her via text that her religion was "stupid." Torres thinks harassment through text and the internet are quickly becoming the most hurtful and pervasive types of bullying at her school.

That's probably true, says Glenn Stutzky. He is a social work professor at Michigan State University. He says five years ago a target of a bully would be harassed about three times a day. Now, he says, a kid could be bullied between 10 and 20 times a day.

"Technology has allowed bullying to go mobile and it's this type of bullying is not bound by geography, you don't have to be in the same place and it's not bound by time," Stutzky says. "It's like being electronically bound to your tormentors. You can't get, you know, away."

Stutzky says the things that happen in a home that a child witnesses during the earliest years of their life are still the biggest factors that contribute to bullying behavior. He says bullies choose their targets by honing in on gentile children because the bullies perceive those kids as weak.

Larry Schiamberg teaches human development and family studies at MSU.

"I don't think anyone bullies another person without getting some sadly, some level of satisfaction and gaining some level of apparent control over the other person," he says.

Schiamberg says victims and bullies have the similar emotional make-up. He says bullies can easily become victims, and victims can easily become bullies. Schiamberg says it's important to encourage kids to report bullying if it happens to them or they see it happen to others in order to help break the cycle.

"When we define bullying as bullying we are talking about continuity of behavior," Schiamberg says. "This is not simply one nasty comment, this is not simply one maybe abrupt push, this is not simply one behavior. This is behaviors repeated over time."

"And I think a lot of times people have just looked at this as just a rite of passage," says Kevin Epling. "It's normal, everybody went through it "

Epling is a father whose teenage son Matt killed himself ten years ago after being bullied.

"Today it's much different - the technology has changed it quite a bit," he says.

Epling has been an advocate for an anti-bullying law in Michigan. Though he supports the anti-bullying proposal before the state Legislature, he says it still needs some work. He would like the proposal to include stronger rules about cyber-bullying. Epling also says he'd like the law to explicitly state some of the common characteristics of bullying victims. Advocates for gay and lesbian students say that would offer kids better protection.

Professor Glenn Stutzky says he is excited the bullying issue is being talked about. He says public dialogue about bullying can advance anti-bullying legislation.

"Now I'm really encouraged because I feel like we're reaching a tipping point where we can make some significant progress," he says.

There is already an anti-bullying policy in Samantha Torres' school district in Ann Arbor. The policy lists characteristics that are protected from bullying, such as sexual orientation and gender. Even so, Samantha says many of the mean comments made between students still go unnoticed by most people.

"The 'sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you,' but words can actually really hurt you," she says.


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