New Jersey bullying legislation goes into effect on September 1, but school officials say the law is too harsh and difficult to enforce. Supporters and lawmakers say New Jersey schools need to stop whining and make it happen.
The new law, called the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, uses a series of 18 standards to help school officials fight bullying, the safeguards created to protect students and to reassure parents that everything that can be done, is being done. Things like state mandated forms to record incidents, creating an anti-bullying specialist in each school, and a mandatory reporting time frame force school officials to respond to all reported cases.
Students are held accountable as well. The law states that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. If a student sees bullying occurring, they are expected and required to step in and do something, even if it's only to get a teacher to step in.
Teachers and school officials, who admit that bullying is a serious problem in their schools, complain that while the bullying legislation has good intentions, it is too strict and difficult to carry out based on current staffing and funding numbers. They also worry about law suits from parents if the outcome of the new mandatory investigations is not to their liking.
"I think this has gone well overboard. Now we have to police the community 24 hours a day. Where are the people and the resources to do this?" said Richard G. Bozza.
School officials and fellow students shouldn't need legislation to tell them that if they see someone getting bullied, they need to step in. That should be an automatic response based on the kind of values U.S. public schools are supposed to instill in its students. The fact that there was a need to legislate behavioral expectations and norms is a clear sign that something isn't working the way it should.
Add to that the changing face of the bully. Many adults think of the school yard bully threatening kids for their lunch money when the topic is raised, but many modern bullies hide behind social media sites like Facebook, through text messages, and e-mails. Physical threats and confrontations are no longer the norm and most schools, who may have rules on the books to protect students from physical violence, didn't have any effective way of fighting cyberbullying. Until now.
New Jersey in particular was pushed into acting after the highly publicized case of Tyler Clementi, who took his own life after his roommate at Rutgers University secretly took video of Tyler and another man engaged in sexual activity. As the incident became national news, the national opinion on bullying changed from something that kids just had to deal with as a part of growing up into something that is no longer acceptable behavior.
While New Jersey teachers may find it challenging to enforce the new bullying legislation, the effort itself will help bring about change in their school system and hopefully in their students.