“When I was in high school, I thought bullying was bad. I got harassed a lot,” said David Morrison of Jersey City last week. “But the more I see on the news, I think kids today have it a lot worse. It seems like it’s an epidemic or something.”
On Nov. 15, Morrison made the two-hour trek from his home in the Heights to Trenton to show his support for two pieces of legislation known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. Last week, versions of the legislation were passed by the state Assembly Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee.
Do you think a state law against bullying will work?
Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) in the state Senate, and cosponsored by Valerie Huttle (D-Englewood) and Mary Pat Angelini (R-Ocean Township) in the Assembly, the bill already has broad bipartisan support.
Among some of the key components included in the proposed law: teachers, administrators, and school board members would be required to complete anti-bullying training; harassment, intimidation, and bullying could be considered “good cause” for suspension or expulsion, even if it’s a first offense; colleges and universities would be required to adopt an anti-bullying policy that would include harassment and intimidation in the code of conduct given to all students, and schools superintendents would be required to appoint an anti-bullying coordinator.
It would require school districts to form school safety teams to review complaints of alleged harassment. In addition, districts would be graded on their efforts to address bullying.
Administrators who fail to adequately investigate alleged harassment could be disciplined themselves.
Teachers, administrators, and school board members would be required to complete anti-bullying training.
Some concerns raised
Although the legislation’s intent has received support from educators and community groups, some concerns have been raised since its introduction last month.
The law lists several categories that are often subject to bullying – race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.
But critics, including New Jersey Family First, point out that kids can be bullied for reasons that have nothing to do with these categories.
“The list needs to be removed. It is discriminatory, it is unconstitutional, and that is what is wrong with this bill,” said Gregory Quinlan of government affairs for New Jersey Family First told legislators in Trenton Monday. The bill, he added, should be revised to prevent “all bullying against all students for all reasons.”
A requirement in the legislation that school administrators discipline students for alleged bullying incidents that take place off campus was also criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union last week for possibly being unconstitutional.
The problem of bullying, and the long-term impact it can have on the lives of victims, has received renewed attention since death of Tyler Clementi last month. In Sept., the 18-year-old Rutgers University student took his own life after his roommate and a friend allegedly shot footage of him being intimate with another man, then streamed live video footage online.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.
Poll closes Thurs., Nov. 25