Gov. Chris Christie has signed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights—which aims to improve anti-bullying practices in New Jersey's schools. Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, whose district includes Morris Township, was the only state legislator to vote against the bill when it passed with an overwhelming majority in November.
“We are grateful to the prime sponsors, Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Mary Pat Angelini, and [state] Senators Barbara Buono, Diane Allen and Loretta Weinberg, for their leadership that brought Democrats and Republicans together rapidly,” Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, said in a statement released by his organization Thursday. "The overwhelmingly bipartisan support for this landmark legislation will give impetus to other states across America, whether they are blue or red, to adopt anti-bullying laws just like ours.
Garden State Equality—which promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights—said it is initiating a new Anti-Bullying Partnership—comprised of legal experts, educational experts, corporate leaders, bullied students and parents–to partner with schools, student organizations and parent-teacher organizations to make sure the new law is enforced.
The measure easily passed both houses of the New Jersey legislature in November, with a 32-0 vote in the state Senate and a 71-1 vote in the Assembly.
But Carroll told Patch in November he'd like to see a better definition of what a bully is, equal treatment for harassment victims regardless of whether they're targeted for minority status, and more help for bullying victims.
"Most of this bill is paperwork and reporting," Carroll said at the time. "If at the end of the day and you don't know how to deal with bullying, you probably should think twice. It is not difficult. It is not rocket science."
Carroll said the bill increases taxpayer liability by opening up schools and public institutions to lawsuits. He said he'd rather have simple language that says public employees who know about bullying and ignore it should be fired.
Jim O'Neill, Superintendent of the School District of the Chathams, and Darren Groh, the principal at Chatham High School, said that the teachers and administrators take accusations of bullying seriously and are committed to fostering a safe and comfortable environment for all students.
O'Neill said he had concerns about some of the reporting requirements and language of the law, which, he said, "tend[s] to imply that the district is guilty until proven innocent.
"I am also concerned that the law assumes the lowest common denominator; meaning that since some administrators in a few districts have made poor decisions in the past we should assume that all administrators make poor decisions and we do not leave them the latitude to make reasonable judgments," he said.
The legislation originated with a December 2009 report from the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in Schools, which put a spotlight on harassment among children. But it gained hightened attention after the death of Ridgewood's Tyler Clementi, who leapt to his death off the George Washington Bridge after his Rutgers University roommate allegedly streamed video of Clementi having intimate contact with another man over the Internet.
The bill requires teachers to undergo suicide prevention courses and mandates school districts to have comprehensive policies on anti-bullying and harassment. It aims to protect young people by raising awareness of bullying, harassment and intimidation in schools and to prevent instances of abuse by ensuring schools take a hard line against such conduct.
The bill requires school districts to form school safety teams and appoint anti-bullying coordinators. A Department of Education fund will be used to provide grants to offer training to school district employees.
Additionally, district policy will require responses to incidents of bullying that occur off school grounds, such as on a school bus or school-sponsored function. The legislation defines harassment, intimidation and bullying to include any harassing gesture, whether made verbally, physically or through electronic means.
The legislation departs from current norms by specifying that harm to students can be emotional as well as physical while declaring that "harassment, intimidation or bullying" could include incidents that foster a "hostile environment" at school.
Under the legislation, a school administrator is subject to discipline if he or she fails to conduct an investigation of a known incident of bullying, or if the administrator reasonably should have been aware of a problem and failed to take action.
The bill's prime sponsors are Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth), and Senators Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen). The sponsors include Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-Union), Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) and Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris).