‘Matt’s Law’ – Not so safe after all

Matt Eppling (Source: mattepling.msu.edu)

BY DEANDRE MCDAY, Staff Writer

In 2002, 14-year-old Matt Epling committed suicide in his family’s East Lansing home six weeks after being bullied at school, according to the Detroit Free Press. Now, almost 10 years later, the Senate Bill passed in his name has been compromised.

Senate Bill 137, better known as “Matt’s Safe School Law,” is a bill designed to combat bullying within Michigan Schools. It was presented to the Michigan House by Republican Rick Jones in February.

Some could say that this bill showed great promise in combating bullying…until Republican Senators made last minute revisions to the legislation right before elections, and hurriedly had it passed in a landslide voice vote last Wednesday (those responsible for the provision remain unknown).

The state of Michigan has 38 senators—26 of them are Republican, and according to michiganvotes.org, ALL of them voted “Yes” for the revised bill. Democrats voted no.

If passed, Matt’s Law would compel Michigan schools to impose rules prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying by standards specified within the bill—a statewide, systematic anti-bully campaign. ALL forms of bullying, including verbal, are prohibited UNLESS they are statements of a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

In other words, no one is above moral or religious reproach on school grounds. The clause even goes on to say WHO can convict who: Pupil vs. pupil, pupil vs. employee, pupil vs. pupil’s guardian (and vice versa).

“If my religious background condoned animosity toward another race, that’s something that would be frowned upon, and this bill says I can express this as long as I have a good reason behind it,” says Ashley Covington, Jr.

But, as Covington seemed to imply, sentiments like that typically hurt relations between those of differing races and religions, and usually serve as catalysts for violent insurrections, be they great or small.

This bill forces Michigan schools to stop bullying over trivial differences like physical appearance or mental aptitude…but it seems to condone a no holds-barred slug-fest on the topic of religion—a topic nations have warred over.

Could this bring added chaos to the classroom?

“I feel like…it’s legalizing verbal bullying,” says UM-Dearborn student, Delon Hardy. It sounds like you can say whatever you want, just have a rational ‘argument’ behind it.”

“[The bill] seems to contradict itself,” says Asia Hutchins, a junior at UM-Dearborn. “You do have a freedom of speech…but only to a certain extent. It seems like some things, for the sake of peace, are better left unsaid.”

At the moment, the bill’s implementation is up in the air. It’s livelihood, revised or not, depends on the response of Michigan voters.

If you want to know more about Matt’s Life, and his family’s movement against bullying, check out mattepling.com for more information. Michiganders are encouraged to contact their local legislators and check out michiganvotes.org for more up-to-date information regarding Senate Bill 137.

  • wagneram

    I applaud the MJ for including this as one of its stories this week. This legislation, initially designed to protect kids in schools, has turned into a right-wing tragedy. This bill offers kids about as much protection as a condom with a staple through it would offer a sex addict.

    Be on the lookout for another Audience Debates event in the next couple of weeks. We’ll be discussing SB 137, and the potential benefits and ramifications if passed.

    Anthony Wagner