March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Snyder signs ‘Matt’s Safe School Law’

Tuesday, Dec. 6 — Family members, children, legislators and supporters gathered in the Capitol today as Gov. Rick Snyder signed anti-bullying legislation to help protect Michigan students from intimidation and harassment.
After almost 10 years of discussions about anti-bullying legislation, Michigan today became the 48th state to require schools to develop and enforce bullying policies to stop bullying in schools.
The bill passed with bipartisan support, even though many Democrats said they held their noses because the measure failed to enumerate groups that are frequently subject to bullying, especially gay youth. Legislators and others said anti-bullying legislation in other states that didn’t protect specific groups has proved ineffectual.
Many Democrats voted against it in the Senate when the measure still included a religious exemption that in effect protected bullying if it was done on the basis of a deeply held belief. While the measure passed the Senate, the GOP stripped the exemption out of the bill after it received negative national attention.
“The vote that was taken in both the House and the Senate proves beyond a doubt that this was not a political issue,” said Rep. Phil Potvin, the bill’s sponsor, referring to the revised measure that Snyder signed today. “This was about our children and the safety that our children deserve in the school systems.
“When you see bullying and you hear bullying, you need to stop it,” he added.
Snyder said the legislation was “long overdue” and was a good foundation to help protect students from all backgrounds and groups throughout the state.
“I think this addresses all circumstances and that was really the point of this legislation,” Snyder said. “It’s not to isolate situations but to say that bullying as a concept should not happen under any circumstances.
Snyder said he had been bullied as a student from elementary school through college for being a nerd and was proud to be involved in the process to create, pass and sign anti-bullying legislation in Michigan.
“Bullying is bullying, and bullying is just wrong and bad,” Snyder said. “It’s unacceptable in any context and any form.”
Snyder thanked the legislature as well as the school boards, the parents and the education groups who joined with his office to make the legislation possible. Snyder said he called on legislators to pass anti-bullying legislation in his message on education reform in April.
“Hopefully that was part of the process to highlight the discussion and the need for legislation,” Snyder said.
Families of bullying victims, including Kevin Epling and his family, stood beside Snyder as he spoke to the crowded room and signed the legislation. Kevin’s son Matt was a student in East Lansing schools who committed suicide after enduring severe bullying. The law is named in his honor.
“We knew we had to make a difference because of what Matt went through and we couldn’t just be the bystander anymore,” Epling said. “This may not be everything we wanted compared to other states, but it is a firm foundation to start from.”
Epling said the legislation allows parents to ask questions about what their child’s school is doing to address bullying. It also empowers schools to work with parents on anti-bullying policies and practices.
Choking back tears, Epling thanked his family, and especially Matt, for helping him fight for the legislation and for making him a better person.
“This may be known as Matt’s law, but it is for all that we have lost … to simply say, from this day forward never again,” he said.