TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle today unveiled the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” – bipartisan legislation designed to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying among students. The lawmakers were joined by advocates and victims who shared their stories, some of whom played key roles in the crafting of this legislation, which entailed nearly a year of research and discussions with top bullying experts.
The bipartisan measure is also sponsored by Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth).
“Our efforts today are based on the very simple belief that no child should ever be afraid of going to school,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “The concept of bullying can no longer be confined to the tough kid on the playground, roughing up classmates for lunch money. We must accept that kids can be bullied at any time and any place, whether it be face-to-face or through hateful messages on a cell phone. We must protect our kids and allow them to grow up free of the emotional pain that can lead them into despair that life is not worth living.”
“The truth is that every day there is a student in an elementary school, high school or even a college who feels a sense of fear and emotional dread every time he or she steps foot into the school building or signs onto the internet,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “The negative impacts can be life long. For some students, it will hinder their academic performance. For others, it will mean something unspeakably worse. This bill is about changing the culture that drives these incidents and ensuring that when they do occur, they are properly addressed.”
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights is designed to raise awareness of bullying, harassment, and intimidation in schools and prevent instances of abuse. The sponsors noted that the bill employs smart and efficient uses of existing resources.
The process of crafting such broad legislation began in January following the issuance of a December 2009 report by the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in Schools, which was established by the Governor and Legislature to study the issue of school harassment, intimidation and bullying and make recommendations on how to reduce such incidents.
“This initiative will create a proactive, comprehensive approach to the incidences of bullying that happen every day,” Allen stated. “This program will raise awareness and hopefully alleviate the harmful effects of bullying. When we adopted the first anti-bullying law, in May of 2002, it was groundbreaking legislation. Since then other states have far surpassed us. Now, with this legislation we are once again leading the nation in an effort to stop bullying in person, and over the internet.”
Vainieri Huttle noted that over the past 10 months extensive meetings were held with victims and advocates such as Garden State Equality, the Anti-Defamation League and the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention. The legislative result is a broad initiative to create a standardized way to identify and investigate incidences of bullying and to train teachers, administrators and school board members in identification and prevention techniques.
It is estimated that roughly 160,000 students nationwide avoid school each day because they fear bullying. Today, New Jersey’s rate of bullying, according to a U.S. government report, is actually higher than the national average. Anti-bullying experts believe that New Jersey now has one of the weaker anti-bullying laws in the country because the state’s anti-bullying law, enacted in 2002, was one of the first such laws in the country and other states’ laws have since surpassed it.
“This bill protects all students who are bullied, not just students bullied because they belong to a particular group that faces discrimination,” said Steven Goldstein, head of Garden State Equality. “Given the painstaking year of work that went into this legislation, it should not be interpreted as a knee-jerk reaction to the tragic death of Tyler Clementi. Although New Jersey must respond to that – and this bill does.”
“As lawmakers, it has taken stark circumstances to realize the shortcomings that still exist in current law,” said Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), a cosponsor along with Buono of a 2008 law that strengthened state hate crime and anti-bullying law. “Closing these gaps are essential to changing people’s ideas of what constitutes bullying, and will protect countless kids from unspeakable harm.”
The legislation will provide school administrators with the tools they need to respond to instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying in a timely and effective manner. The measure creates school safety teams that would involve a cross section of the school and give ownership of the problem of bullying to the entire school community.
Additionally, the bill requires annual reporting on bullying instances from schools and districts to be passed up directly to the Commissioner of Education and it grades each school on how it handles bullying, harassment and intimidation.
It also extends bullying protections to off-school grounds and addresses college and university students.
In striving to create a new culture of accountability, the legislation also includes penalties for education officials who fail to report or respond accordingly to incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying.
“The most frightening realization is that bullying no longer has to be face-to-face, as the Internet and cell phones have allowed tormenters to reach their victims at any hour of that day from any place,” said Buono. ”The sooner we can change the culture of youth to reject all forms of bullying, the better. Kids will be kids, but we cannot afford to look the other way when playful teasing becomes something much more sinister and threatening.”
“The only way to effectively combat bullying is to change the culture of our schools,” added Vainieri Huttle. “By giving students and educators the tools they need to successfully prevent and respond to bullying and to also give communities the ability to hold the state education system accountable, we send the clear message that harassment, bullying, and intimidation will not be tolerated.”
A detailed explanation of the bill’s many provisions is included below.
Bullying Awareness and Prevention
· Provides that training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) be part of the training required for public school teaching staff members in suicide prevention. The instruction is also required to include information on reducing the risk of suicide in students who are members of communities identified as having members at high risk of suicide.
· Provides that by the 2011-2012 school year all candidates for school administrator or teacher certification will be required to complete a program on harassment, intimidation, or bullying prevention, and that training in this area will be a part of the professional development requirements for these individuals.
· Includes training regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying in schools as a part of the training program provided to all school board members.
· Provides that the training course for safe schools resource officers and public school employees assigned by a board of education to serve as a school liaison to law enforcement must include training in the protection of students from harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
· Requires school districts to establish bullying prevention programs or approaches. Under current law school districts are only “encouraged” to establish such programs.
· Provides that each school district must form a school safety team in each school in the district to foster and maintain a positive school climate within the schools:
– Consists of the principal or a senior administrator in the school and a teacher in the school, the school anti-bullying specialist, and other members to be determined by the principal. The school anti-bullying specialist shall serve as the chair of the school safety team.
– The school safety team shall:
- receive any complaints of HIB of students that have been reported to the principal
- receive copies of any report prepared after an investigation of an incident of HIB
- identify and address patterns of HIB
- review and strengthen school climate and the policies of the school in order to prevent HIB
- educate the community, including students, teachers, administrative staff, and parents, to prevent and address HIB of students
- collaborate with the district anti-bullying coordinator in the collection of district-wide data and in the development of district policies to prevent and address harassment, intimidation or bullying of students
· Creates the “Bullying Prevention Fund” in the Department of Education to be used to fund grants to school districts to provide training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention and on effective means to create a positive school climate.
· Designates the week beginning with the first Monday in October of each year as a “Week of Respect” and requires districts to observe the week by providing age-appropriate instruction focusing on preventing harassment, intimidation or bullying.
Response to HIB and Enforcement of Appropriate Consequences
· Amends the definition of “harassment, intimidation or bullying”: to specify that the “harm” that a student may experience could be either physical or emotional; to add two additional criteria to the definition – the creation of a hostile environment at school and the infringement on the rights of the student at school; and to eliminate the requirement that the disruption or interference with the orderly operation of the school be “substantial.”
· Adds a conviction of “bias intimidation” to the list of crimes for which a person may be disqualified for employment in a school.
· Provides that the Department of Education, in consultation with the Division on Civil Rights in the Department of Law and Public Safety, must develop a guidance document for use by parents, students, and school districts to assist in resolving complaints regarding harassment, intimidation, or bullying behaviors and concerning the implementation by school districts of statutory requirements in this area.
· Includes harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the types of conduct that under current statute may constitute good cause for suspension or expulsion.
· Includes members of the school board in the list of individuals who may not engage in reprisals against victims or witnesses of acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying and also in the list of those who are required to report acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying to appropriate officials in the school district;
· Provides that a school district’s policy on harassment, intimidation, and bullying must include appropriate responses to such actions that occur off school grounds.
· Provides a detailed procedure that must be included in each district’s policy concerning the investigation of incidents of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
· Provides that a school employee or contracted service provider must file a written report with the school principal within two days of observing or being made aware of an act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
· Provides that the principal in each public school must appoint the currently employed school guidance counselor, school psychologist or another similarly trained individual as the school anti-bullying specialist. If there is no individual that meets these criteria employed in the school, the principal must appoint another currently employed individual in the school to the position of school anti-bullying specialist. The bill also sets forth the responsibilities of school anti-bullying specialists:
- Chair the school safety team
- Lead investigation of incidents
- Act as primary school official responsible for preventing, identifying, and addressing incidents at school
· Provides that the superintendent of schools in each school district must appoint a district anti-bullying coordinator and sets forth the responsibilities of that individual:
- Responsible for coordinating and strengthening the school district’s policies to prevent, identify, and address incidents
- Collaborate with school anti-bullying specialists in the district, the board of education, and the superintendent of schools to prevent, identify and respond to incidents
- Provide data, in collaboration with the superintendent of schools, to the Department of Education regarding harassment, intimidation, and bullying of students
· Require the addition of an anti-bullying policy and enforcement mechanism to the student code of conduct of every public college and university.
Accountability-Accountability of School, School District, and State of New Jersey
· Provides that the Department of Education must establish a formal protocol to be used by the offices of the executive county superintendent of schools in investigating complaints that school districts are not adhering to the provisions of law governing harassment, intimidation, or bullying in the schools.
· Provides that a school administrator who fails to initiate or conduct an investigation of an incident, or who should have known of an incident and fails to take action, is subject to discipline.
· Provides that the superintendent of schools must report to the board of education twice a year, rather than annually, at a public hearing all acts of violence, vandalism and harassment, intimidation, or bullying which occurred during the previous period. The report shall be used to grade schools and districts in their efforts to identify harassment, intimidation or bullying, pursuant to a program for which the commissioner will provide guidelines.
· Include in the School Report Card data identifying the number and nature of all reports of harassment, intimidation or bullying.