As state Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-18) and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) joined Fort Lee High School students this morning to celebrate the official commencement of the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” Bergen Republicans tried to poke the legislators in the eye with a press release aimed at deflating the event.
LD 37 GOP challengers John Aslanian and Keith Jensen called rival Huttle’s anti-bullying bill little more than “reactionary, big government liberalism” that will do nothing to improve education and only add to the burden of teachers and school administrators, and threw their support behind the “Fair School Funding Plan” advanced by state Sen. Mike Doherty (R-23).
“This anti bullying morass of regulations is precisely what we don’t need in New Jersey,” declared Jensen on the first official day of campaign season. “It’s another way of jacking up the cost of education without teaching our children anything that will help them in the workplace.”
“Our teachers and school administrators have enough to do already without implementing more feel good social legislation,” he added. “The cost of this legislation will rob our schools of funds at a time when they are already under budget constraints. How does Assemblywoman Huttle hope to pay for her project? Is she going to institute a bullying tax?”
At their press conference to unveil what they cite as one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying measures in the country, Vainieri Huttle (pictured), welcomed Buono; Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-27); Jennifer Ehrentraut, the cousin of Tyler Clementi; Garden State Equality; Dr. Stuart Green, director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention; and Dr. Raymond Bandlow, Fort Lee superintendent of schools.
“There was a time when bullying was called a right of passage or child’s play,” said Vainieri Huttle. “Since the advent of social media, texting and instant messaging, this notion is outdated. Bullying doesn’t stop at 3 p.m. In many instances, it can result in ‘round-the-clock harassment that has, in some cases, caused horrific and even deadly consequences. The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights is a bold, 21st century approach to open students’ eyes to the realities of bullying and move from a culture that once turned a blind eye to this behavior to one that no longer tolerates it.”
Businessman Aslanian wasn’t impressed.
“Teaching kids not to be bullies is the parents’ responsibilities, not the schools’ job,” said the challenger. “Our children need more time learning to read, write and compute so they can compete in the global economy. They don’t need more nanny state lessons.”
An unsuccessful challenger in last year’s 9th Congressional District Republican Primary, the candidate said the bullying law has the potential to tarnish innocent children with labels that may not be appropriate.
“What is the definition of bullying anyway? Are we going to create a whole new state department of bullying. Is every student who says or does something a classmate doesn’t like going to be branded a bully?” asked Aslanian. “I do not endorse bullying and I think bullies should be punished, but this is getting extreme. What’s next, are we going to force kids to wear a scarlet B on the shirt?”
The Republicans invited Huttle and her running mate, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37), to join them in supporting Doherty’s Fair School Funding Plan, which would increase state aid to District 37 by $167 million, they said.
“Why won’t Huttle and Johnson get on board and join us in the fight to provide tax relief to every school in our district and more money for our school children?” asked Aslanian.
While the Republicans attempted to go on offense with the issue, Garden State Equality doubled down on the Democratic lawmakers’ Bill of of Rights, announcing the organization’s Anti-Bullying Hotline.
“If you know of an incident of a student being bullied, whether the student is gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, report the incident by calling 1-877-NJBULLY or texting NJBULLY to 66746. We will help. We led the way for the new law,” Garden State Equality said in a release.
A detailed explanation of the law’s many provisions is included below.
Bullying Awareness and Prevention
- 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.
- 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.
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.
§ 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 DOE 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.