New state anti-bullying law challenges schools

By Anne Collier

The New Jersey anti-bullying law passed after the suicide death of Tyler Clementi went into effect this week and is “considered the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation,” the New York Times reports. This is good news for New Jersey parents of targeted students who have found schools unresponsive but apparently tough news for schools. School officials worry that the legal requirement to address bullying will lead to more complaints and lawsuits from families not happy with outcomes, according to the Times. They also criticize the law as an unfunded mandate. School have to adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying policy (the law includes “18 pages of required components,” the Times reports) and have a designated anti-bullying specialist to investigate complaints (duties typically falling to a school counselor or social worker). Every district has to have an anti-bullying coordinator, and “the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades [on effort] on its Web site.” What I like about the law is its requirement that districts appoint a safety team at each school made up of teachers, staff, and parents to review complaints (though the team should also have two student leaders on it as well) and its requirement of principals to initiate an investigation within one school day of a complaint. What is not good is that the law allows for districts such as East Hanover to involve law enforcement out of the gate, “rather than resolving issues in the principal’s office,” the Time reports. So much of what we call “cyberbullying” is not criminal activity, and immediately placing an incident in that context can make matters much worse for targeted students as well as bullies. Last May, Education Week cited the US Department of Health and Human Services as showing that 42 states had anti-bullying laws. New Jersey must be the 43rd.

Related links

* For more on the Tyler Clementi story, see my earlier posts “Fixing hate online and offline” and “Cyberbullying and second chances.”
* Students’ views on bullying
* “Why anti-bullying laws don’t work: School psychologist’s view”
* “A cyberbullying epidemic? No!”
* About Massachusetts’s comprehensive new anti-bullying law, passed last spring

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