FORT LEE – Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono joined with Fort Lee High School students on Tuesday to mark the start of the new school year at an event to highlight the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” which takes effect today.
The legislation, considered one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying measures in the country, was signed into law in January, however, it did not take effect until the start of this school year. Vainieri Huttle and Buono, the lead sponsors of the law, were on hand today to help inspire students and faculty to embrace a bully-free school culture.
“There was a time when bullying was called a right of passage or child’s play,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Since the advent of social media, texting and instant messaging, this notion is outdated. Bullying doesn’t stop at 3 p.m. In many instances, it can result in ‘round-the-clock harassment that has, in some cases, caused horrific and even deadly consequences. The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights is a bold, 21st century approach to open students’ eyes to the realities of bullying and move from a culture that once turned a blind eye to this behavior to one that no longer tolerates it.”
“Bullying no longer occurs only on school grounds out of the watchful eye of the teacher, but through text messaging and social media it goes on long after a child has returned home,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “This new law reflects the changing world of technology to combat bullying wherever it takes place. As the strictest and most comprehensive law in the nation, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act will ensure that the focus for children is on learning and growing, and not on fear for their safety and well-being.”
The lawmakers were joined by Jennifer Ehrentraut, the cousin of Tyler Clementi, who unveiled Garden State Equality’s new statewide anti-bullying hotline that parents and students will be able to call or text to report bullying incidents – Call: 1-877-NJBULLY or Text: NJBULLY to 66746. Ehrentraut was joined by Steven Goldstein, Chair of Garden State Equality, in unveiling the new initiative.
Also on hand was Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, another prime sponsor of the bill, as well as Dr. Stuart Green, Director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, who was instrumental in helping to craft the law, and Dr. Raymond Bandlow, Fort Lee Superintendent of Schools.
The comprehensive effort 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.
On Friday, Vainieri Huttle and Buono sent a letter to Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf requesting that the Department of Education hasten the issuance of guidance materials so that schools are adequately prepared to implement the law. The letter noted that despite the considerable time frame since the bill was signed into law, DOE has not taken sufficient action to prepare school districts for the new roles and responsibilities required by the law. In light of this, the sponsors requested that DOE issue the necessary guidance or regulations no later than Oct. 3, which will be observed by schools as a “Week of Respect” under the law.
“This law is comprehensive and thoughtful in its approach to combating bullying,” said Jasey (D-Essex). “In order to ensure that schools have the ability to implement this landmark legislation, it is imperative that the Department of Education provide all school districts with the necessary resources, training, and assistance.”
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. New Jersey has consistently been on the forefront in combating anti-bullying, passing one of the first laws in the country in 2002. However, experts believe that a new law was necessary to meet the demands of twenty-first century bullying.
The process of crafting such broad legislation began after 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.
Vainieri Huttle noted that for over 10 months extensive meetings were held with victims and advocates such as Garden State Equality, the Anti-Defamation League, the ARC of NJ, 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.
The sponsors also reminded school officials that, under the law, the week beginning with the first Monday in October of each year will be designated as a “Week of Respect” and requires districts to observe the week by providing age-appropriate instruction focusing on preventing harassment, intimidation or bullying. Vainieri Huttle and Buono look forward to celebrating the first Week of Respect, starting on Monday, October 3.
Additionally, the law extends bullying protection to incidents that occur off school grounds. This gives schools the authority to address harassment regardless of where it happens if it interferes with a student’s learning environment.
In striving to create a new culture of accountability, the law requires the Commissioner of Education to grade each school on how it complies with the law. It also includes penalties for education officials who fail to report or respond accordingly to incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying.
The bipartisan measure (A-3466) was also sponsored on the Democratic side by Assembly members Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Paul Moriarty, and Pamela Lampitt.
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