Lawmakers combat bullying

TRENTON – In the aftermath of a Rutgers freshman’s suicide last month, Democratic and Republican legislators joined today to announce new anti-bullying legislation designed to combat harassment and intimidation.

Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) authored post Columbine anti-bullying legislation in 2002 – which the legislature updated in 2007. This version builds on that, Buono told reporters at a statehouse press conference.

“This is a standardized way to identify and prevent bullying,” said the Senate Majority Leader. “There is nothing more important than the physical and emotional well-being of our children. The children need to know their school community will stand alongside them and their parents.”

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park) joined Buono in a crowd of legislators that included Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange). Garden State Equality Founder Steven Goldstein also attended the press conference.

“Schools should be a safe place to learn,” said Huttle. “It’s becoming a warzone.”

“Now with this bill, children will be protected,” said Allen.

Before welcoming several individuals and families who testified about their personal travails as once bullied children, Goldstein told his own story in support of the bill.

“Many times growing up I didn’t think life was worth living,” he said. “I too wanted to take my own life. …Who would have thought a poor, bulied kid from Queens, New York now living in the great State of New Jersey would be standing here with a bipartisan group of legislators?”

Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi of Ridgewood jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22nd after his roommate web cammed and tweeted the intimate nature of Mr. Clementi’s interaction in their dorm room with another man.

The anti-bullying bill of rights co-sponsored by Allen, Buono, Huttle and Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Ocean) is reprinted below.

·        Provides that training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) be part of the training required for public school teaching staff members in suicide prevention.  The instruction is also required to include information on reducing the risk of suicide in students who are members of communities identified as having members at high risk of suicide.

 

·        Provides that by the 2011-2012 school year all candidates for school administrator or teacher certification will be required to complete a program on harassment, intimidation, or bullying prevention, and that training in this area will be a part of the professional development requirements for these individuals.

 

·        Includes training regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying in schools as a part of the training program provided to all school board members.

 

·        Provides that the training course for safe schools resource officers and public school employees assigned by a board of education to serve as a school liaison to law enforcement must include training in the protection of students from harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

 

·        Requires school districts to establish bullying prevention programs or approaches.  Under current law school districts are only “encouraged” to establish such programs.

 

·        Provides that each school district must form a school safety team in each school in the district to foster and maintain a positive school climate within the schools:

Consists of the principal or a senior administrator in the school and a teacher in the school, the school anti-bullying specialist, and other members to be determined by the principal.  The school anti-bullying specialist shall serve as the chair of the school safety team.

 The school safety team shall:

         receive any complaints of HIB of students that have been reported to the principal

         receive copies of any report prepared after an investigation of an incident of HIB

         identify and address patterns of HIB

         review and strengthen school climate and the policies of the school in order to prevent HIB

         educate the community, including students, teachers, administrative staff, and parents, to prevent and address HIB of students

         collaborate with the district anti-bullying coordinator in the collection of district-wide data and in the development of district policies to prevent and address harassment, intimidation or bullying of students

 

·        Creates the “Bullying Prevention Fund” in the Department of Education to be used to fund grants to school districts to provide training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention and on effective means to create a positive school climate.

 

·        Designates the week beginning with the first Monday in October of each year as a “Week of Respect” and requires districts to observe the week by providing age-appropriate instruction focusing on preventing harassment, intimidation or bullying.

 

Response to HIB and Enforcement of Appropriate Consequences

 

·        Amends the definition of “harassment, intimidation or bullying”: to specify that the “harm” that a student may experience could be either physical or emotional; to add two additional criteria to the definition – the creation of a hostile environment at school and the infringement on the rights of the student at school; and to eliminate the requirement that the disruption or interference with the orderly operation of the school be “substantial.”

 

·        Adds a conviction of “bias intimidation” to the list of crimes for which a person may be disqualified for employment in a school.

 

·        Provides that the Department of Education, in consultation with the Division on Civil Rights in the Department of Law and Public Safety, must develop a guidance document for use by parents, students, and school districts to assist in resolving complaints regarding harassment, intimidation, or bullying behaviors and concerning the implementation by school districts of statutory requirements in this area.

 

·        Includes harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the types of conduct that under current statute may constitute good cause for suspension or expulsion.

 

·        Includes members of the school board in the list of individuals who may not engage in reprisals against victims or witnesses of acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying and also in the list of those who are required to report acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying to appropriate officials in the school district;

 

·        Provides that a school district’s policy on harassment, intimidation, and bullying must include appropriate responses to such actions that occur off school grounds.

 

·        Provides a detailed procedure that must be included in each district’s policy concerning the investigation of incidents of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

 

·        Provides that a school employee or contracted service provider must file a written report with the school principal within two days of observing or being made aware of an act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

 

·        Provides that the principal in each public school must appoint the currently employed school guidance counselor, school psychologist or another similarly trained individual as the school anti-bullying specialist.  If there is no individual that meets these criteria employed in the school, the principal must appoint another currently employed individual in the school to the position of school anti-bullying specialist.  The bill also sets forth the responsibilities of school anti-bullying specialists:

Chair the school safety team

 Lead investigation of incidents

Act as primary school official responsible for preventing, identifying, and addressing incidents at school

 

·        Provides that the superintendent of schools in each school district must appoint a district anti-bullying coordinator and sets forth the responsibilities of that individual:

Responsible for coordinating and strengthening the school district’s policies to prevent, identify, and address incidents

Collaborate with school anti-bullying specialists in the district, the board of education, and the superintendent of schools to prevent, identify and respond to incidents

 Provide data, in collaboration with the superintendent of schools, to the Department of Education regarding harassment, intimidation, and bullying of students

 

·        Require the addition of an anti-bullying policy and enforcement mechanism to the student code of conduct of every public college and university.   

 

Accountability-Accountability of School, School District, and State of New Jersey

 

·        Provides that the Department of Education must establish a formal protocol to be used by the offices of the executive county superintendent of schools in investigating complaints that school districts are not adhering to the provisions of law governing harassment, intimidation, or bullying in the schools.

 

·        Provides that a school administrator who fails to initiate or conduct an investigation of an incident, or who should have known of an incident and fails to take action, is subject to discipline.

 

·        Provides that the superintendent of schools must report to the board of education twice a year, rather than annually, at a public hearing all acts of violence, vandalism and harassment, intimidation, or bullying which occurred during the previous period.  The report shall be used to grade schools and districts in their efforts to identify harassment, intimidation or bullying, pursuant to a program for which the commissioner will provide guidelines.

 

·        Include in the School Report Card data identifying the number and nature of all reports of harassment, intimidation or bullying.

  Lawmakers combat bullying