TRENTON – Legislation Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and Senator Diane Allen sponsored to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying among students was today released by a Senate committee.
The bi-partisan “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” has gained nationwide recognition for being one of the country’s most comprehensive attempts to stop bullying in the wake of numerous suicides by young people who had been emotionally tortured by their peers.
“The state must send the powerful message to every child that they should never be afraid of going to school,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “The days of bullies being the tough kid on the playground who roughs up classmates for lunch money are over. Children can now be bullied at any time and any place, whether face-to-face or through hateful text messages or e-mails. Every child has a right to grow up free of the emotional pain that can lead them into despair that life is not worth living.”
Buono and Allen (R-Burlington) said the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (S-2392) would protect young people by raising awareness of bullying, harassment, and intimidation in schools and prevent instances of abuse by ensuring schools maximize their resources.
“It is incumbent upon lawmakers to ensure that every child in New Jersey is afforded a learning environment free from harassment, violence, and predatory behavior,” said Allen. “Not only will this legislation protect would-be victims, it will send a message to all children that their actions have consequences. This legislation will teach young people an important life lesson: that it DOES matter how you treat others.”
Under the bill, school safety teams would be created to directly involve teachers and students in the fight against bullying and ensure the entire school becomes accountable for stemming the problem. Anti-bullying protections for students also would extend beyond school grounds, to combat the growing trend of bullies terrorizing their victims through electronic means. Annual reports on bullying would be submitted directly to the Commissioner of Education, and each school would be graded on how it handles bullying, harassment and intimidation.
The comprehensive bill was nearly a year in the making. It was spurred by a December 2009 report from the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in Schools that highlighted the prevalence of harassment, intimidation and bullying in schools. Lawmakers worked with victims and anti-bullying advocates – including Garden State Equality, the Anti-Defamation League and the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention – to create the bill’s standardized means of identifying and investigating bullying and to train educators and school board members in bullying prevention.
“Teachers and parents have had to face the shocking realization 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.”
In addition to the two prime sponsors, the bill has 26 Senate co-sponsors; more than two-thirds of the entire Senate has put their name on the bill.
The measure was released from the Senate Education Committee and now is poised for a vote in the full Senate. The Assembly Education Committee is considering the companion version of the bill, (A-3466), this afternoon.