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Topics In the News
 
Bulllying Updates
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/16/11
Last updated on: 11/17/11
 
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"Zach," the victim of an Ohio bullying incident that was captured on video.

The proposed Michigan law described as "a Republican license to bully" has been amended. In Ohio, a victim of bullying fights back. Meanwhile, the sharply divided U. S. Civil Rights Commission has issued a report on bullying in American public schools.

Michigan state senator Rick Jones, who had inserted an exemption for "a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction" into an anti-bullying bill, has agreed to remove the exemption.

On November 14, Jones said he would drop his amendment and vote for the House version after critics said the language would expose gay, Muslim, and other minority students to harassment. The Republican lawmaker professed to be bewildered by the outcry. Had he foreseen the controversy, Jones said, he would have removed the problematic language.

Jones's statement should be taken with a grain of salt. In the senate debate, Democrats made very clear the problems with the religious exemption. Senator Gretchen Whitmer memorably described Jones's bill as "a Republican license to bully."

What Jones did not anticipate is that Senator Whitmer's speech would go viral on YouTube and in the blogosphere. Consequently, the machinations of the Republican legislative majority were brought to the attention of thousands of Michigan voters, and to hundreds of thousands of voters across the nation.

A viral video also figured into another story of bullying that rocked the country in October.

On October 17, 2011, a Unioto, Ohio high school freshman was viciously attacked by a classmate who had previously taunted him for being gay. Video of the attack, which was recorded with a cellphone by another student and later posted online, went viral on the Internet and shocked the conscience of viewers around the world.

When it was learned that no one came to the aid of the freshman and that the attacker had been punished only by a three-day suspension, outrage grew and there were calls for the police to investigate the attack. Many viewers of the video described the assault as a hate crime.

In response, the school reviewed the original punishment given to the attacker and reportedly increased it. However, citing privacy concerns, school officials refuse to specify the disciplinary actions they have taken.

After the outcry, police charged the fifteen-year-old attacker with misdemeanor assault. According to Ross County Prosecutor Matt Schmidt, the student pled guilty. The judge in the case has ordered a predisposition report and a victim impact statement. He has also ordered the teenager to wear an ankle monitor and check in with a probation officer twice a week.

The attack on the gay student, known as Zach, was by no means the first time he had been physically and verbally abused at school. His mother repeatedly reported these attacks to school officials but they did little or nothing.

Now, with the aid of the ACLU, the young man and his mother have decided to fight back.

On November 15, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio delivered Unito High School officials the legal equivalent of an ultimatum: meet with the ACLU to discuss ways to curb bullying or face a lawsuit.

James Hardiman, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said the organization would represent Zach and his family in a lawsuit if school officials fail to enforce their anti-bullying policy.

The ACLU's letter accuses the school district of being "derelict in its responsibility to provide a safe learning environment" for Zach.

Zach and his mother discuss the incident:

.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has issued a report entitled, Peer-to-Peer Violence and Bullying: Examining the Federal Response.

The report concludes that current federal laws do not protect all students from peer-to-peer bullying and harassment and offers recommendations to the Departments of Education and Justice.

The report, adopted on a 4-3 vote, illustrates the divide between the Democratic and Republican members of the Commission. Whereas the Democratic members, including Roberta Achtenberg, believe that the federal government needs to be involved in responding to the epidemic of bullying, especially the bullying of glbtq students, the Republicans are skeptical of such interventions by the federal government.

One of the Democratic members, Michael Yaki, says that he voted to adopt the report only because he wanted "to validate the one truly groundbreaking aspect" of the study: "this Report was the Commission's first real foray into the experiences of people who have been defined solely by their sexual orientation."

He goes on to lament "the Commission's failure to tackle head-on the continued discrimination against Americans who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in a meaningful way that utilizes extant Constitutional doctrine."

Here is a link to the Report: Peer-to-Peer Violence and Bullying.

 
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