Anti-bullying legislation started with a lot of support, but now faces considerable opposition
Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle firm in her support of Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, which she co-authored. (valeriehuttle.com)
When the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was first proposed, it received bipartisan and almost unanimous support and consent. Almost a year after sailing through the Assembly and Senate, and two months after being officially enacted, opposition to what is known as the nationâ€™s toughest anti-bullying law has been surfacing across New Jersey. Claims that the legislation, while in good intention, is cumbersome and overwhelming, as well as distracting for school staff members, who should be concentrating on educating New Jerseyâ€™s youth efficiently and effectively.
Republican Assembly candidates from the 37th District, Keith Jensen and John Aslanian, campaigned against Democrat Assemblywoman Valerie Huttleâ€™s Bill, asking, â€œWhat is the definition of bullying anyway?â€ Aslanian continued on to ask in his campaign press release, â€œAre we going to create a whole, new state department of bullying? Is every student who says or does something a classmate doesnâ€™t like going to be branded a bully? I do not endorse bullying and I think bullies should be punished, but this is getting extreme. Whatâ€™s next? Are we going to force kids to wear a scarlet B on their shirt?â€ Aslanian and Jensen lost their Assembly bids, but the argument will about this anti-bullying statute will persist.
In October, a teacher at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood overheard a student calling his friend â€œretardâ€ during lunch. In compliance with the anti-bullying legislation, the incident was reported to the district superintendent, the school board and the state Department of Education. The offending studentâ€™s record is now tarnished, as his disciplinary record shows that he committed an act of HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying). Bullying, in the legislation, is defined as an act â€œinterfering with a studentâ€™s education or by severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm to the student.â€ Opponents of the legislation argue that thoughtful interpretation is required to determine whether an inappropriate comment or schoolyard jibe crosses the line.
Richard Bozza, Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, sees the current anti-bullying legislation as a costly burden of time, money and student self-esteem. As districts are spending thousands of dollars in legal fees to attorneys reviewing policies, local boards of education are pouring hours over every HIB report, including allegations brought up by parents, who witnessed various incidences outside of school. Scheduled school vacations, staff vacations and police involvement have the potential to delay resolutions, forcing both victims and those wrongly accused of bullying to relive their misfortunes over and over again.
The first anti-bullying legislation was passed in 2002, encouraging, not mandating, school districts to set up anti-bullying programs. Under the new law, all public school teachers, administrators and other employees must be trained to spot bullying. Each school must have a designated anti-bullying coordinator and school safety team to review all complaints. There are stringent timelines for investigating and reporting all allegations of harassment, intimidation and bullying. According to the New Jersey Education Association, â€œall acts of harassment, intimidation or bullying must be reported verbally to the school principal on the same day when the school employee or contracted service provider witnesses or receives reliable information regarding any such incident. The school employee or service provider must submit a written report of the incident to the principal within two days.â€ Also, investigations must be completed no later than ten days after the principal receives the initial written report.
Though various school administrators and critics of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights have been pointing out its shortcomings and flaws, Assemblywoman Huttle continues to stand her ground in support of the law she co-sponsored and co-authored. She has no intentions of changing any of its guidelines or mandates. She feels that the law is worth all the extraneous reports and misinterpretations of incidences, if it means saving just one childâ€™s life, claiming that one must use professional common sense and age appropriateness.
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