Potvin honored by social workers

HONORED: State representative Phil Potvin receives the award for Michigan’s Legislator of the Year by the Michigan Association of School Social Workers.
HONORED: State representative Phil Potvin receives the award for Michigan’s Legislator of the Year by the Michigan Association of School Social Workers.

LANSING - When 102nd District State Representative Phil Potvin, (R-Cadillac), proposed legislation targeting bullying in public schools, he was standing up for kids he knew from his district, and thousands of young people he had never met.

In no short measure, Potvin was also standing up to his own party.

Last year in November, Michigan’s House of Representatives passed legislation entitled House Bill 4163 - Matt’s Safe School Law. The bill was named in honor of high school student Matt Eppling who committed suicide after being bullied beyond his breaking point.

(At least 10 students in Michigan who identified themselves as “gay” and who were incessantly bullied by others in their schools have killed themselves. A sad result of their persecution.)

Phil Potvin was the bill’s primary sponsor. His legislation replaced an earlier Republican effort to pass a bullying law - but a controversial effort that would have actually allowed bullying under certain circumstances.

The earlier bill read: "This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil and parent or guardian.”

Potvin was shocked there was actually a provision protecting certain forms of bullying in a bill being debated that was meant to restrict or eliminate bullying in schools.

Flying in the face of his GOP colleagues’ efforts, Potvin authored an alternative legislation which was then placed on the floor stating clearly that ALL students in Michigan “ ...are protected under the policy and that bullying is equally prohibited without regard to it’s subject matter or motivating animus.” (Animus is defined as “ ...an attitude that generates or inaugurates one’s actions.”)

In Potvin’s bill that passed a House vote in November, 2011, and was signed into law by the governor, ALL bullying was and is prohibited without exception.

It was for this effort, without regard for party politics and with a desire to create equal protections for all students under the law, that Potvin was recently named the Michigan Association of School Social Workers Legislator of the Year.

“I was surprised at the announcement,” said Potvin in an interview held in Big Rapids following the award ceremony. “I didn’t sponsor this legislation in order to earn recognition. I simply wanted to do the right thing and help people.”

Potvin noted that at the time, his alternative bill had actually come under fire from some of his GOP colleagues.

“I was told they couldn’t or wouldn’t support my legislation because of pressure from their constituents,” he said.

“I based my stand on the story of a young person I knew. I knew the effects of bullying, and I understood what the results could be.

“I knew we as legislators had to do the right thing for all our kids.”

The Michigan Association of School Social Workers are a group of professionals who are highly trained in social work and who have specific training and experience working with young people in a school environment.

“I am so proud of this honor,” said Potvin.

“I will continue to work with these folks (the MASSW), in whatever way I can to ensure that each and every student in our districts, and around the state, can study and learn in a safe and secure environment.

“It really is a basic right.”