New Jersey passed the nation’s toughest anti-bullying law in 2010 and, judging by a report released earlier this week, it hasn’t made an impact. Students reported that they had been bullied, harassed or intimidated by peers in 12,024 instances in 2011-2012, a four-fold increase over the previous year.
Granted, the state is using a never-before-used, and far broader, definition of bullying. Students can now report instances of bullying anonymously and school districts are required to document and report every instance. Bullying instances ranged from one student “glaring” at another to outright aggressive altercations, to harassment on social media sites. That is, under the New Jersey law, students can be accused of bullying other students for actions that do not happen during regular school hours.
Overall, in 10 percent of incidents, students said they were bullied because of their gender; in 9.4 percent of the instances, bullying occurred because of a student’s mental or physical disability. In 8.4 percent of incidents, students were bullied because of their race.
The figures on bullying differed widely from school district to school district, which may be reporting instances with varying degrees of diligence.
The highest totals in the state — 177 instances — were reported in both Elizabeth and Woodbridge, two small cities in the north-central part of the state.
130 incidents were reported in Philipsburg, another small city in south Jersey.
113 incidents were reported in Mt. Olive, a large suburban district.
105 incidents were reported in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city and school district with 39,000 students.
Only 35 incidents were reported in the chronically troubled and impoverished south Jersey city of Camden.
Only 10 incidents were reported in Perth Amboy, whose school district is among the state’s largest.
One school superintendent, Michael Salvatore of Long Branch near the Jersey shore, told NJ.com that he did not think that bullying was happening more often now. Rather, people are better educated about it, plus “things that may have been classified as conflict or teasing before are now being qualified as bullying.” Salvatore’s district of about 5,300 students reported 123 instances of bullying
Most Bullying Occurs Among Middle School Students
Notably, half of the 13,101 bullies mentioned in the report were in middle school, in grades 5-8, although students that age comprise only 30 percent of New Jersey’s students. One-third of the bullies said that they knew that what they did “would physically or emotionally cause harm to the victim”; one-quarter said they knew that their “verbal, emotional and physical attacks disrupted the victims’ education.”
According to NJ.com, the report also found that, in the majority (70 percent) of cases, students who were bullied said they felt “insulted or demeaned by the peers.” 30 percent said they feared “physical or emotional harm or that their property might be damaged.”
The report also found that, across New Jersey, there were 3,000 fewer violent assaults, fights, threats and robberies in schools.
Will New Jersey’s Anti-bullying Law Decrease Bullying?
The tragic death of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi in 2010 after he learned that his roommate had used a webcam to spy on him with another man, and the suicide of a 15-year-old New Jersey high school student this year, highlight the need for the law. But it remains to be seen if New Jersey’s anti-bullying law will help to lessen instances of bullying and truly create schools in which students treat each other with respect.
One feature of the new law is that it focuses not only on disciplining students charged with bullying, but also seeks to offer support to those who have been bullied. That is, not only the perpetrators are focused on, but also those who have had to endure taunts or more overt acts of aggression. (I am refraining from using the word “victim” to describe those who have been bullied as calling students such suggests that they are passive, weak and powerless.)
No one would say they’re in favor of bullying. But New Jersey’s own governor, Chris Christie, has won accolades for what could be called bullying behavior, for his aggressive speaking style in which he dresses down opponents. It’s one thing to say we’re fighting bullying. The regard for Christie among some suggests that lessons about anti-bullying must be carried over into students’ actions outside of, after and beyond school.
We’ve come a long way in fighting bullying but there’s much more, beyond the schoolyard, that we can do.
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