By Anne Collier
New Jersey’s stepped-up bullying prevention law has been deemed unconstitutional not for its spirit but for its cost. It was the state’s Council on Local Mandates that ruled the law – the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” which “was seen as one of the toughest in the nation” – unconstitutional as an unfunded mandate, the Tri-Boro Patch reports. The legislation’s lead sponsor, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, said she and her co-sponsors would “try to find a way” to make the law work, and the state School Boards Association said it would “welcome the opportunity to work with the state to design a process that has adequate state financial support and doesn’t divert resources from other critical programs.” The Patch added that “the anti-bullying law was sparked by the 2010 suicide of a Rutgers University freshman whose roommate allegedly used a webcam to video him with another man. Recent coverage of that complex story can be found in The New Yorker and Out.com.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, 48 US states and the District of Columbia now have laws that address bullying in school, 38 of them (not DC) including “electronic harassment” and 14 of those 38 specifically referring to “cyberbullying” (Montana and South Dakota are the only two states that don’t at least require schools to have a policy concerning bullying). However – as you can see in this New Jersey story – it’s not easy for lawmakers to find the right balance and language, when, as a society, we still struggle over the definition of “bullying” now in a social media environment to which social norms and spatial boundaries (such as on- or off-campus) haven’t yet caught up (see “What I’ve learned so far” about that). The hope is that – beyond funding their mandates – lawmakers increasingly will ground their efforts in the latest national-level research about bullying and cyberbullying, such as that of the Cyberbullying Research Center, the Crimes Against Children Research Center, and other scholars I often cite in this blog.