Bullying and Hazing in Michigan Schools

Educational institutions should provide a well-rounded education in a positive, learning environment. Optimal learning takes place when students feel physically safe and emotionally secure. A child, teen, or young adult should never experience a school situation where they feel threatened, relentlessly taunted, or unsafe. Additionally, cyberbullying belongs in this unacceptable behavior category.  Hurtful actions interfere with a positive learning environment and negatively affect students. Consequently, bullying and hazing have no place in Michigan schools.

If you have been charged with hazing or bullying or are a victim it’s important to consult with an experienced Michigan school offense lawyer.

What is School Bullying?

School bullying involves any verbal or physical act that intimidates, humiliates, threatens, or physically harms another student. The bully may work alone or enlist others to “gang up” on a victim. The Michigan State Board of Education notes that bullying is conduct that meets the following criteria:

  • Perceived as dehumanizing, intimidating, hostile, humiliating, threatening, or otherwise likely to evoke fear of physical harm or emotional distress.
  • Is directed at one or more students.
  • Is conveyed through physical, verbal, technological, or emotional means.
  • Interferes with educational opportunities, benefits, or programs of one or more students.
  • Adversely affects the ability of the student to participate in or benefit from the school district’s educational programs or activities.
  • Is based on the student’s actual or perceived characteristics (race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or a mental physical or sensory disability or impairment, or any other perceived characteristic.)

Bullying Laws in Michigan

Michigan has anti-bullying laws. In regards to school bullying, Michigan Compiled Laws Chapter 380, Section 1310b defines school bullying as:

  • An act that occurs on school premises, a school vehicle, or during a school sponsored activity that occurs in the school or on any other premise.
  • This act also covers cyberbullying and any harmful act a “reasonable person” would know causes hurt to another. So, any verbal, written, physical act, or cyber activity that a reasonable person would know hurts others is defined as bullying.

This law also expects schools to adopt specific anti-bullying policies and training for staff.  Parents and students should be aware of these written policies. Consequences for these crimes range from suspension and expulsions, to misdemeanor fines and even jail time. So, if your student has been bullied or falsely accused of bullying contact an attorney immediately.

Hazing in Michigan Schools

Bullying and hazing use intimidation. However, there is a difference. Bullying is ganging up on another to exclude them. On the other hand, hazing uses similar tactics to see if a person should be “included” in a specific group. Often we think of hazing as a fraternity ritual. However, hazing may be a part of any organization’s initiation. Gangs, sport’s teams, clubs, and other groups may use hazing as part of joining the group. Of course, some initiation rituals are not harmful. However, illegal hazing occurs when a reasonable person knows the activity would harm someone.

Michigan Hazing Laws

The Michigan Penal Code 750.411t lists hazing penalties for school related offenses. Convictions range from misdemeanors to felonies and depend upon injuries sustained by hazing victims. For example:

  • If the violation results in physical injury the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of 93 days or less or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.
  • If the violation results in serious impairment of a bodily function, the person is guilty of a FELONY punishable by imprisonment for not more than five years, or a fine of $2500.00 or less, or both.
  • If the violation results in death, the person is guilty of a FELONY punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.

Due to the serious consequences of these charges it remains vital to hire an experienced criminal law attorney to protect your rights.

How to Stop Bullying and Hazing

Open communication between parents and students is very important at all grade levels. However, some teens distance themselves from authority figures during high school years and beyond. So, it remains vital for parents to observe any behavior changes. If you suspect a problem, investigate. Once you learn about a bullying or hazing incident, document all information.

If your child was physically, or emotionally injured, immediately contact an attorney. Your attorney will advise you what to do next. A meeting with the school administration may become necessary; but, seek legal advice first. Tell your child NOT to discuss the incident with anyone. Also, if your child is involved in these acts seek legal advice right away.

Matt’s Safe School Law

An article of Matt's Safe Schools Law showing a picture of 14 year old Matt Epling

Under Matt’s Safe School Law, every school is required to adopt an anti-bullying policy. Matt’s Law defines bullying as any “written, verbal, or physical act, or any electronic communication that is intended or that a reasonable person would know is likely to harm one or more pupils.”

The policy must name the school officials that are responsible for ensuring its implementation and must have procedures for notifying the parents or legal guardians of a student that has been the target of bullying.

According to the policy bullying of students is a major and persistent problem as 84% of students have witnessed bullying and 98% have witnessed teasing and rumor-spreading.

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