Legislators in New Jersey have proposed what may be the toughest anti-bullying law in the nation with a “bill of rights” as its charter.
On the heels of the recent tragedy at Rutgers University when freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death, the proposed legislation builds on current laws that have not adequately protected students who are intimidated every day.
New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights would:
- Apply to bullying at school, near school and on school buses and to cyberbullying.
- Require training for nearly all school employees on how to identify, prevent and report acts of intimidation
- Set deadlines for incidents of bullying to be reported, investigated and resolved. School personnel will have to report incidents of bullying to principals on the same day as the incidents. Principals will have to inform parents or guardians on the same day as the incidents. An investigation will have to begin within one school day of an incident and be resolved within 10 school days of an incident.
- Require each district to form a “school safety team” to review complaints, led by a counselor designated as an “anti-bullying specialist.”
- Provide for the grading of each school on its safety, and provide that each school must put that grade on the home page of its website.
- Create an annual school-wide Week of Respect during which school will provide anti-bullying programming.
- Strengthen suicide prevention training for teachers to include information on the relationship between bullying and suicide, and information on reducing the occurrence of suicide among students most at risk.
- Provides that public universities in the state must prohibit bullying and create anti-bullying rules and procedures for handling bullying, and distribute the rules and procedures to every university student within seven days of the start of the fall semester.
While most schools already have policies and procedures for anti-bullying and behavioral misconduct, what this bill will hopefully achieve is to encourage / require school leaders to help students, faculty and staff proactively identify and report suspicious incidents, bullying, violence, etc.
As we shared in a previous blog, 90% of the bystanders that witness bullying are not reporting incidents, which make prevention and intervention efforts almost impossible.. To prevent bullying and to meet federal regulatory obligations, school leaders must ensure that all faculty, school administrators, school security officers, school resource officers, counselors, parents, and students understand how and where to report incidents and that the incident reporting process is trusted.
Based on lessons learned from numerous bullying / harassment related incidents, anti-bullying legislation may help motivate school leaders and a possible Bullying Prevention Fund in the legislation may help with fiscal related challenges in schools.
Lessons learned also show that all the legislation in the world does not ensure that all appropriate people understand their roles and responsibilities to eliminate the hostile environment created by bullying / harassment and ensure that bullying / harassment does not recur.
The legislation is a step in the right direction, but saving lives and building a positive school environment will ultimately depend on better awareness and better accountability of the school’s living program.