Education — November 29, 2011 at 10:53 am

State Education Board member ties schools of choice to bullying: Allow bullies to drive kids out – UPDATED


You have to hand it to the Republicans who are hell-bent on destroying the public school systems through what they dishonestly call the “schools of choice” initiative, they are nothing if not creative. This label is dishonest because the reality is that the “choice” they mention is only available to those with the resources to afford it. If you can afford to send your kid across town (including transportation to and from school), you could be described as having a “choice”. If not? Well, no choice for you. And that doesn’t even speak to the issue of funneling tax monies to private, for-profit schools or to religious schools.

The latest bit of creative pretzel logic on this issue came yesterday from Richard Zeile, a Republican member of the State Board of Education in an op-ed titled “School choice could be used as anti-bullying tool”. In his piece, he says that schools of choice are the answer to our state’s bullying issue. He recounts his own childhood where he was bullied and begged his parents to let him move to another school to escape it. Because his family attended a specific church, he was able to make the move and escape his bullying classmates, leaving them to bully other kids not as fortunate as him.

Make no mistake: this is simply a disingenous argument to further his anti-public school, pro-private school and school services privatization agenda. In fact, Zeile doesn’t call them public schools, he calls them “government schools”. Nothing raises the hackles of his conservative base like refering to them in that way. It’s just more red meat, suggesting that these schools are akin to indoctrination centers run by the government. And not just any government, either. The OBAMA government!

Meanwhile, the adults in our state are trying to enact a REAL solution: policies and rules that intend to eliminate bullying, not allow bullies to drive their victims to another school. And by adults, in this case, I’m talking about a 13-year old, Carson Borbely, and a 16-year old, Katy Butler. I have written about these two amazing students from Ann Arbor (HERE and HERE) and their petition. As I write this, their petition now has 56,248 signatures asking the Michigan Senate to do better by students.

Katy put out a statement this week:

Will Michigan legislators give students the anti-bullying law we need?

This is a personal appeal to the Michigan state senate by Katy Butler, a 16-year-old student and bully victim from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Bullying hurts, it’s real, and it can kill. And it’s a very serious problem that countless students like me face everyday in schools across Michigan.
Right now, legislators in Lansing are faced with a choice. The Michigan state senate can either do what’s easy, or do what’s right. They can pass a weak bill that won’t actually protect students. Or they can pass a strong anti-bullying law that enumerates the reasons why students are bullied, and requires that schools report back on how well they’re protecting us.

For students who have endured bullying like me, and for the more than 50,000 people who have signed my petition on, it’s pretty clear what choice we need them to make.

My name is Katy Butler, and I’m a junior at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am 16-years-old, and I am a lesbian.

When I was in 7th grade, a few guys came up behind me while putting my books in my locker. They called me a faggot and a dyke and asked me why I even bothered to show my face at school because no one liked me. I ignored them because I was scared of what else they might say and who else they might tell if I stood up to them. When I went to shut my locker, they pushed me against the wall. Then they slammed my locker shut on my hand, breaking my fourth finger. I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. I didn’t know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid.

Eventually, I got tired of being afraid, and tired of being told to wait for things to get better. So when the legislature started considering an anti-bullying bill, I traveled with 30 other students to let Lansing know what we need. And when the state senate went ahead and passed a bill that included a dangerous exemption for bullying done for religious or moral reasons — well, that’s when I knew that they weren’t interested in what students had to say.
So we launched our petition on And now more than 50,000 people have joined this student-led campaign, demanding that Michigan’s elected officials pass a strong anti-bullying bill. And I think we’re starting to get their attention.

You see, this campaign is about providing a voice for all those students who suffer every day at school. Those students who really need to be heard in Lansing, but haven’t been. We’re speaking out because as students, we deserve a bill that will actually protect us at school, not make it more dangerous, or give bullies a free pass.

And as students, we know what we need to be protected. But will the Michigan state senate do the right thing, and listen to what students have been saying we need?

Let’s not take any chances. Please sign our petition now.

Fortunately, Katy and Carson’s efforts are getting noticed. Yesterday, they were featured in an article by the Detroit News.

Butler, the 16-year-old who was bullied in middle school, isn’t willing to compromise — nor are more than 56,770 people who had signed a petition as of this weekend that Butler posted on The petition asks for a bill that lists the reasons why students are most often bullied.

Under a headline that read “Help Michigan Students Stop the ‘License to Bully’ Bill,” Butler wrote: “As students, we deserve better.”

“I am not unique. Students all across Michigan have stories just like mine.”

It’s interesting to see two teenagers acting more responsible and intelligently on the issue of bullying than a member of our State Board of Education. They want to solve the problem by addressing the root cause: bullies. Zeile just wants to further his conservative, anti-public school political agenda.


UPDATE: The Senate took the easy way out today and, rather than strengthening the anti-bullying bill passed by the House, they passed it on a 35-2 vote. This bill does not contain language that spells out specific types of bullying (gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, etc.), something many advocates (and many Michigan Democrats) supported.

It now goes to Governor Rick Snyder who has indicated he will sign it into law.