Partially in response to Tyler Clementi’s suicide last September, New Jersey has passed “the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” the country’s strictest anti-bullying law.
It goes into effect today, and will be implemented over the next few days as students return to the classroom across the state. But are its demands on schools unrealistic?
The New York Times offers a rundown of what’s expected:
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…
The law also requires districts to appoint a safety team at each school, made up of teachers, staff members and parents, to review complaints. It orders principals to begin an investigation within one school day of a bullying episode, and superintendents to provide reports to Trenton twice a year detailing all episodes. Statewide, there were 2,846 such reports in 2008-9, the most recent year for which a total was available.
New Jersey school districts have already spent more than $259,000 on anti-bullying training manuals and DVDs alone—and probably hundreds of thousands more on additional workshops, lesson plans, posters and other resources.
Most schools will simply appoint their current counselors and social workers to serve as the new anti-bullying “specialists,” but do these employees have the time and experience to thoroughly investigate and write reports on each incident?
And will holding schools legally responsible for bullying invite unwarranted complaints and lawsuits from students and parents?
Unlike Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District, which seems to value neutrality over addressing anti-LGBT attitudes head-on, New Jersey should be commended for taking the issue so seriously. But we need to ask administrators and teachers whether they can reasonably achieve this wide-ranging law’s goals. At least one of them doesn’t think so:
“I think this has gone well overboard,” Richard G. Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said. “Now we have to police the community 24 hours a day. Where are the people and the resources to do this?”
So does the law go too far or—in a world where social media enables bullies to torment their victims long after they leave the lunchroom—not far enough?