School Officials Wary of Tough New Antibullying Law in New Jersey
New Jersey’s new antibullying law, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, goes into effect tomorrow, September 1, and it is said to be the toughest in the nation. The law strengthens rules put in place in 2002 and 2007 and expands bullying to include online harassment that takes place outside of school. In addition, the new law mandates a strict timetable with “no grace period” to report allegations of bullying, says NJSpotlight:
- School staff must report to the principal any alleged cases that they either witness or receive reliable information about within one day,
- Witnesses must write reports within two days,
- Principal alerts parents, and initiates investigation within one day,
- Investigation completed within 10 days, and reported to superintendent two days after that,
- Superintendent must recommend for intervention or other action to school board at next meeting; findings shared with parents. Parents may request hearing.
Michael Kaelber, director of legal services for the school boards association, compares the new law to the “now-standard workplace harassment rules that put the onus clearly on management.” While parents and educators are welcoming the new law, some superintendents and school board members think it goes too far and places new demands on them without providing additional resources, says the New York Times:
Propelled by public outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, nearly a year ago, it demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.
Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.
Most schools are designating guidance counselors and social workers — who already have plenty on their plates — as antibullying specialists. To train for their new roles, thousands of New Jersey school employees attended training sessions given by “antibullying specialists” such as Strauss Esmay Associates this past summer. Districts are also required to set up a safety team of teachers, staff members and parents at every school to review complaints. Principals have to send a report to Trenton, New Jersey’s state capital, twice a year with information about every bullying episode. In addition, the state will conduct its own antibullying training sessions in each school district starting in September.
Richard G. Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, says that the new law amounts to having to “police the community 24 hours a day.” Rona McNabola, the Board of Education President in Glen Rock in Bergen County — the same northern New Jersey county where Clementi was from — says that the new law will most likely mean “additional costs” for her school district, according to NorthJersey.com.
But in an era when bullying happens not only in the hallways and stairwells but via text message and social media sites — and after the state was shocked to hear about Clementi jumping off the George Washington Bridge not even a year ago, after his Rutgers roommate used a webcam to film him and another man in an intimate encounter — many say that the new, tough law is necessary. Richard Bergacs, an assistant principal at North Hunterdon High School, says that “It’s not the traditional bullying: the big kid in the schoolyard saying, ‘You’re going to do what I say’ ”; most instances of bullying, says Bergacs, have both an online and a “face-to-face” component.
Sure it may cost more to carry out the new law’s mandates and, yes, many New Jersey school districts are contending with budget cuts. But shouldn’t we be doing all we can to keep students safe — shouldn’t students be the first priority for educators?
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