Weeks after 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington bridge as a result of LGBT-related bullying, a bipartisan coalition of New Jersey lawmakers have introduced legislation “designed to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying among students.” The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights builds on New Jersey’s existing anti-bullying measure, passed in May of 2002, but advances stronger accountability standards and reporting requirements. From Blue Jersey:
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) and Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) will introduce on Monday the eagerly anticipated harrassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) awareness and prevention legislation. It is expected that it will have bipartisan support, including Assemblywoman Pat Angelini (R-11), and Senators Diane Allen (R-7) and Thomas Goodwin (R-14).
Their bill is squarely aimed at the school environment where discrimination and bullying often begin. It will provide that training on HIB be a part of the training required for public school teaching staff members in suicide prevention. It will create a fund for state grants to school districts. It will include sections on enforcement and response to HIB and on accountability of schools, districts and the state. It will also require the addition of an anti-bullying policy and enforcement mechanism to the student code of conduct of every public college and university.
Lawmakers first began crafting the legislation in 2008, and held numerous meeting with victims and advocates such as Garden State Equality, the Anti-Defamation League and the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention. The goal was to “create a standardized way to identify and investigate incidences of bullying and to train teachers, administrators and school board members in identification and prevention techniques” to reduce New Jersey’s bullying rate which is higher than the national average.
“This bill protects all students who are bullied, not just students bullied because they belong to a particular group that faces discrimination,” Steven Goldstein, head of Garden State Equality told NJToday.net. “Given the painstaking year of work that went into this legislation, it should not be interpreted as a knee-jerk reaction to the tragic death of Tyler Clementi. Although New Jersey must respond to that – and this bill does.”
The legislation also “comes just weeks after New York state introduced a new law requiring New York school districts to protect children against bullying because of their sexual orientation or weight.” Currently, 45 other states have enacted anti-bullying measures, but advocates believe that most laws leave too much discretion to the schools and see the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights as a model for insuring compliance and accountability. For instance, the bill provides that “a school administrator who fails to initiate or conduct an investigation of an incident, or who should have known of an incident and fails to take action, is subject to discipline” and requires the Department of Education to “establish a formal protocol to be used by the offices of the executive county superintendent of schools in investigating complaints that school districts are not adhering to the provisions of law governing harassment, intimidation, or bullying in the schools.”
A spokes person for Gov. Chris Christie said “the administration would look at the bill if it’s passed – and given its bipartisan sponsors, that seems likely.” “While Christie hasn’t commented on the bill, he did express sympathy to Clementi’s parents and anger over the circumstances of the suicide,” the Washington Post notes.