TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie signed the bipartisan “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” into law today.
The legislation is the product of nearly a year of research and discussions with top bullying experts, advocates and victims in an effort to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying among students.
“Today New Jersey is sending a powerful message to every child that school will be a safe place for them to learn and grow, not a place for them to dread,” said state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex). “There will always be adults who will want to look the other way when a child is bullied and say ‘kids will be kids,’ but now there will be other adults whose job it will be to put a stop to it. Today we can begin to change in earnest the culture of our youth to reject all forms of bullying.”
“While learning to deal with hurt feelings and unkind treatment are part of growing up, there are certain children who are victims of constant, vicious threats and intimidation,” said state Sen. Diane Allen (R- Burlington.) “Not only does bullying jeopardize the victims’ physical and emotional well-being, it impedes their ability to learn. I commend Governor Christie for signing this legislation into law.”
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.
The process of crafting such broad legislation began last 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. The sponsors stressed that the law employs smart and efficient uses of existing resources.
“Simply stated, the world has changed,” said Assemblyman Patrick 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.”
This law 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 law 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 law also includes penalties for education officials who fail to report or respond accordingly to incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying.
“We have witnessed too many instances where aggressive or intimidating actions directed at a child have tragic consequences,” said Allen. “The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act will ensure that teachers and administrators are properly trained to intervene in these incidents, and are required to act when bullying is witnessed or reported. Parents will be empowered with information on their school district’s effectiveness in combating bullying and a direct line of communication with school officials if their child is affected. While we cannot change human nature, we can change how government and school officials respond to unacceptable behavior. That is exactly what this law does.”
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