Anti-bullying law stresses NJ schools

A new anti-bullying law requires New Jersey schools to police campuses and online communications to protect students, reports the New York Times. But superintendents and school boards complain they’re being asked to do more with the same resources.

Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.

In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights “demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes,” reports the Times.

Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.

School officials also worry about lawsuits.

Most bullying complaints involve Internet comments that lead to campus confrontations, says Richard Bergacs, an assistant principal at North Hunterdon High. “It’s gossip, innuendo, rumors — and people getting mad about it.”

This summer, thousands of school employees attended training sessions on the new law; more than 200 districts have snapped up a $1,295 package put together by a consulting firm that includes a 100-page manual and a DVD.

Westfield Superintendent Margaret Dolan worries that students and their parents “will find it easier to label minor squabbles bullying than to find ways to work out their differences.”

The law was motivated by the suicide of a Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, whose gay sexual encounter was secretly filmed and aired online by his college roommate.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. As the parent of one student who went through college admissions three years ago and another who will this year, here’s what I wondered about that Rutgers case. College admissions departments look at every little thing about the applicant, and kids are constantly warned to be careful what they post on Facebook etc., not to use inappropriate e-mail addresses and so on, because college admissions people are forever snooping into every little detail of their lives.

    So with all that prodding and poking and snooping, did the Rutgers college admissions people simply forget to ask, “Are you a virulent homophobic bully who is bent on driving a fragile gay schoolmate to suicide?” Gosh, we just missed that? Forgot to find that out? Seems like there should be a law about college admissions officers too, in that case. Maybe they could put a check box on the Common Application, or “sign here to affirm that you are not a homophobic bully.” (FYI, college admissions officers everywhere — my child may drip with sarcasm at times, but she’s gentle and gay-friendly …)

  2. Bullying is odious, but sadly part of the human fabric. The War on Bullying will be as successful as the War on Drugs or Prohibition.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Bullies don’t bully those who can fight back. That means a punch in the nose, or in some other way defending yourself so that the splashback affects the bully extremely negatively.
    In the Rutgers case, it would have been difficult to prove to the butthead in advance that messing around like this would cost him bigtime. Afterwards, perhaps confronting the roommate and beating the crap out of him would have been therapeutic. Would have, hell. Might have saved the kid’s life. There’s a lot to be said for non-violence and pacifism. Bullies love it.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “Bullies don’t bully those who can fight back.”

    This is not a true statement.

    Some bullies don’t bully those who can fight back. Some do.

    But oft, when a target fights back, they come in packs.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Michael.
    Nature red in tooth and claw, life nasty, brutal and short, have been the only two choices on life’s cable channels for most of the last million years.
    A bully tries to dominate and humiliate the victim. If he wanted to hurt the vic, he’d come up behind him with a crow bar. Instead, it’s taunting and shoving and whatnot, preferably in front of others.
    If the vic fghts back effectively, what we have is a fight, not bullying. And winning a fight against an effective opponent can be done, but you’re usually too tired to enjoy it and doing it again seems kind of pointless.
    When the bully gets his posse to back him, we have what, in venues other than public school, something likely to be legally actionable.
    But in the usual case of bullying, fighting back, making it unpleasant for the bully, ends it.
    I say this as one having taught such to a couple of kids in our church youth group. The most effective things I taught was to walk as if you’d left the coathanger in your shirt, and mom should quit publically treating him as a toddler. I described such goings on to my DIL who observed, “poor kid might as well have a ‘give me a wedgie’ sign on his back.” Mom in each case was divorced.
    Last report, worked. One kid even has a girlfriend now.
    My work here is done.

  6. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Richard Aubrey saith:

    “If the vic fights back effectively, what we have is a fight, not bullying.”

    Horseradish it!

    The idea that you can’t have both bullying and a fight at the same time is so ludicrous that I can’t believe it came from your mind, Richard. You’re saying that whether a confrontation is bullying or not depends on how it ends, not how it begins. In other words, a bully who happens to have really bad luck and only picks on people who fight back (only once each, in your universe) isn’t really a bully at all.

    But that’s wrongheaded, of course. Bullying is about intent, and intent is established before the confrontation even starts.

    Now, I can only speak from my own experience (as I was above), but when a group of kids regularly beats the crud out of another, smaller kid, I call it bullying, even if the kid fights back. It’s still bullying even if the victim wins a few!

    (A side note: I’m relatively convinced that the ongoing problems I had with a particular group of students was precisely because I had the temerity to fight back the first time, and that if I had just sat and taken it, that months/years of conflict could have been avoided. But that’s just speculation in hind sight.)

    Don’t get me wrong: I think fighting back is the right thing to do, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I think it’s a matter of character more than any practical effect it has in stopping bullying. If it does stop the bullying, well, that’s a collateral benefit.

    But that bit of folk wisdom about ending the bullying by fighting back? It’s folk wisdom. Probably more true than not, but nowhere near a universal rule. (Were I a betting man, I’d put the “usual” case, as you call it, at somewhere around 70% of bullying cases.)

  7. I thought that Chris Christie was a conservative. Until he signed this bill, of course.

    Oh well, cross another one off the list.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Michael. If the bully misjudges his vic, he may have intended to humiliate him but he’s not going to do it. It becomes a fight. The intent of a bully is not to fight, to demonstrate that the other party will take whatever without fighting back, to shame him.
    When the vic starts fighting back, that entire goal is gone. The original intent no longer matters.

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Richard Aubrey saith:

    The intent of a bully is not to fight, to demonstrate that the other party will take whatever without fighting back, to shame him.

    Oh I don’t know about that. The intent of an awful lot of bullies is not just to fight, but to win. You must live in a place with some really wussy bullies. I didn’t grow up in such gentle circumstances.

    The intent of the bully is to demonstrate his or her power over the other person. Oft times that involves beating the victim down until they can’t fight anymore.

    You are focusing on the fact of a fight, but fights have endings, my friend. And they can end really hard. If they aren’t broken up by some third party, or ended by the escape of one party or another, then they continue until the person who has won decides that there has been enough beating. That’s the power that winning gets you — total power over the life of another person. Bullies love that.

    And that’s also why fights — even fights started by bullies — are serious affairs.

    Not every bully is a total pansy-ass looking for an easy thrill. Now admittedly, a bully who can’t win any of his conflicts/fights isn’t going to be much of a bully. And one of those little diminutive bullies who is a bully to make up for the fact that he’s like 4’10″ in high school is going to, out of prudence, have to stick to smaller targets.

    But big, strong bullies exist and in my experience they don’t mind taking a couple of solid shots to the head if it means that they get to separate a couple of ribs, break a few wrists, deliver a concussion or two, or have all the other kids at school speak in sufficiently awed, hushed tones when their latest victim shows up to school in a cast.

    Now maybe this doesn’t happen as much these days because we throw bullies like that into juvenile detention, and the police are on campuses now in a way they never used to be. But the fact that they can’t get away with it as much doesn’t change what’s in the bully’s heart.