What's bugging you mid-Michigan? One mother in Jackson County's Napoleon is upset because she says her son's school didn't tell her he had been bullied. Schools are legally obligated to inform law enforcement if there is a bullying incident. Schools must also contact both sets of parents, those of the child who has been bullied, and the parents of the bully.
This mother was shocked when her son came home from school to tell her about a bullying incident, one that she knew nothing about. This mom did not want to be identified, so for the purpose of the piece we'll call her "Linda." Linda's ten-year-old son wrapped up another year of school this week, but it wasn't the happy ending to the year that their family was hoping for.
"The little boy told him that he was going to break his ribs and blow his brains out,"said Linda.
The threat happened on a Napoleon Community Schools school bus, and it wasn't the first incident between Linda's son and the other child. Three weeks earlier, the child hit her son. The school never contacted her or law enforcement about either incident.
"The only reason we knew was because our son came home and told us," said Linda.
But Linda should have been contacted about the incident. Matt's Safe School Law was passed in Michigan in 2011, and it requires schools to contact law enforcement and parents, and to develop an anti-bullying policy. But what every school considers to be an act of bullying is different...
"The statute defines bullying, but as you know it's going to be a discretionary call. I would imagine that schools what air on the side of caution. So the short answer is, it's kind of an I know it when I see it type of thing," said Brian Morley, an attorney at Fraser Trebilcock Law Firm
The children's ages also come into play when a school decides whether or not to contact law enforcement, and if the threat is violent, as it was in this case.
"You get into a gray area in my opinion when it comes to bullying, as to whether it's criminal, if you're dealing with just words. We all have first amendment privileges. I'm not minimizing any of this, but I have a right to call you names if I want to. I don't have a right, necessarily, to threaten you," said Morley.
Following the incident, Linda spoke with the school's superintendent who said that the matter was properly dealt with without her involvement. She requested a copy of the school's bullying policy but did not receive one.
When we called Napoleon's superintendent, we did not get a response.
Do schools have discretion when deciding whether or not an incident is a case of bullying? They only become legally obligated to tell parents and law enforcement when an incident fits their bullying criteria. There are general guidelines included in Matt's Safe School Law, but school's can decide on their own what particular cases they find of such a serious nature that external parties should be contacted, like parents and police.