TRENTON – The state Assembly is scheduled to vote on the bi-partisan “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” in a session scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. today. It will be streamed live at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/media/live_audio.asp.
The bill, a product of nearly a year of research and discussions with top bullying experts, is sponsored by 47 members of the Assembly and is expected to pass. It is designed to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying among students.
“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 Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).
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.
“Simply stated, the world has changed,” said Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Our laws, which at one time were cutting edge, do not properly address the problem now. We live in very different times and we need to employ an approach that deals with the bully and the victim along with the environment in which bullying flourishes. This behavior can have a lasting effect on an individual’s development well into adulthood.”
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.
Lawmakers believe this 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.
The legislation also includes penalties for education officials who fail to report or respond accordingly to incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying.
The Senate version of the bill (S-2392), cleared the Education Committee last week and awaits a vote by the full legislative body. Sponsored by 28 senators, it too is expected to pass.
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