School shootings prompt response in legislatures

Michigan may consider "anti-bully" measures

Prompted by a recent wave of school shootings, Michigan and other states are considering legislation to curb school violence.

The most recent acts of violence, school shootings in California and Pennsylvania, left two dead and 19 injured. There have been over a dozen school shooting incidents in the last three years, and Michigan schools have not been immune to the violence trend.

Michigan schools have faced a rash of bomb threats in the last two years, particularly since the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado, where two students, armed with guns and explosives, killed 13 and injured 23 before committing suicide.

And last year in Michigan, 6-year-old Kayla Rolland was shot and killed by a classmate at Mount Morris Township's Buell Elementary School.

Legislators and community leaders are looking for ways to put an end to school violence, from introducing more police and metal detectors in schools to student-led "kindness programs."

Many states see anti-bullying legislation as the next step in school violence prevention, since many of the perpetrators in violent incidents have been students who were teased or threatened by others.

"It's something we all have to address," Ken Madeleine, an elementary principal in Fraser, recently told The Detroit News. "Every school has [bullies]. When you put hundreds of kids together, some will push their weight around. Most kids in this situation lack self-esteem. They aren't getting it from home. That's why they become bullies."

New Hampshire recently instituted a law that allows local school boards to create anti-bullying policies and provide disciplinary procedures for students who subject others to "insults, taunts or challenges, whether verbal or physical in nature." In Massachusetts, the state allocated $1 million in federal funds for anti-bullying programs, and Washington State and Colorado are considering bills that would require districts to adopt anti-bullying policies.

Michigan Rep. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, may introduce a similar bill that would require public schools to establish bully prevention programs; yet, many state legislators say anti-bullying legislation is unnecessary in Michigan, since strong laws regarding school violence are already on the books.

State Senate Majority Leader Joanne Emmons, R-Big Rapids, a former teacher who chaired a 1999 safe schools task force, recently told The News she believes anti-bullying legislation would simply be redundant.

Current Michigan law provides that students in grade six or above can be suspended or expelled by the local school board for up to 180 days—almost the entire school year—if they commit a physical assault at school.

The law also states that a student's "gross misdemeanor or persistent disobedience," as determined by a local principal or official, can be reason for suspension or expulsion. Students who carry guns or commit arson or criminal sexual conduct on school grounds can face stricter penalties.

In April, the Michigan State Police established a school violence hotline where students can report threats or suspicious behavior. The hotline allows students, teachers, and parents from public or private schools to anonymously report information; calls are forwarded to the appropriate local agencies for action.

"The message that we really want to send is prevention," Donald Weatherspoon, the Michigan Department of Education's safety director, recently told The News. "Our children need to be able to communicate in a way that gives them confidence that someone is listening and that someone will act."