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entries tagged with: Anti Bullying Bill Of Rights


Anti-bullying measure moves forward in Trenton

New Jersey lawmakers this week introduced the public to legislation that would toughen school policies toward bullying, in an effort to prevent tragedies like last month’s suicide by a Rutgers student.

Deemed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the legislation would empower educators to better report and respond to bullying incidents, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), one of the bill’s prime sponsors, told The Jewish Standard Wednesday. The bill is not, she emphasized, a response to Tyler Clementi’s suicide, as it has been in the works since January.

“It’s all about awareness, prevention, and training,” she said. “We need to change the culture of kids and we need to create a new school culture.”

New Jersey passed anti-bullying legislation in 2002 and 2007.

“Unfortunately, now the incidents of bullying [here] are higher than in the rest of the United States because the laws need to go further,” Vainieri Huttle said.

The legislation is a follow-up to a December report from the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in the Schools, a taskforce formed in 2007.

“The tragedy at Rutgers didn’t affect our timetable, but I think it will help sway anyone who might … be on the fence,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s Anti-Defamation League office and a member of the commission.

Through the last 10 years, he said, the public’s perception of bullying has shifted away from viewing it as part of childhood.

“It’s taken years of persistence and advocacy, and now it’s the unanimous consensus that schools, parents, and administrators can change the culture,” he said.

The bill would regulate only public schools and have no bearing on the area’s private yeshivas. Day-school administrators, however, welcomed the legislation. Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, head of Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, said she was “thrilled” by the news. Gerrard Berman has a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy, and begins its education early, so there have not been any incidents at the school, she said.

“We deal with it from a Jewish perspective as well as from a secular perspective,” Bernhardt added. “We talk about how every person is created in God’s image and should be treated with respect.”

Rabbi John Krug, dean of student life and welfare at The Frisch School in Paramus and a clinical psychologist, lamented the need for such a law.

“It is a sad reflection on society when legislation has to step in and mandate something that should be part and parcel of the development of human beings in general,” he said.

Each year, Frisch seniors, with training from faculty, work with the freshmen on bullying issues. Like Gerrard Berman, Frisch has a zero-tolerance policy and Krug said he knows of fewer than a handful of cases in the school each year.

The Rutgers tragedy pushed the bullying issue to the forefront, he said, but it also highlighted the changing role of technology in social interaction.

“The world does not yet know how to cope with this new universe of technology and media, and all the rules that have governed human behavior until now are being redefined,” he said.

The bill has already garnered more than 40 bipartisan cosponsors in the Assembly. It will head to the Senate after the November elections.

“I don’t think we’re going to completely solve the problems of bullying,” Neuer said, “but parents and schools are going to find that bullying and harassment and intimidation will become fringe behaviors.”


New Jersey anti-bullying legislation moves forward in Trenton

Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights could pass through legislature as early as Monday

Legislation that would empower New Jersey educators to clamp down on bullying in their schools took another step forward in the Legislature in Trenton this week.

After a day of powerful testimonies from bullying victims and families, the bill, dubbed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, passed out of education committees in the Senate and Assembly on Monday and is headed for full votes in both bodies as early as next week. Because of its broad bipartisan support, the bill’s backers expect it to pass easily.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that it passed through the education committees,” said Etzion Neuer, director of New Jersey’s office of the Anti-Defamation League, which played a key role in arranging the testimonies earlier this week with Garden State Equality, the state’s largest gay-rights organization. “We’re now looking forward to a full vote. I’m quite optimistic that the bill will be signed with little to no opposition.”

Neuer was a member of the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in the Schools, whose 2009 report provided the impetus for the new legislation.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), one of the bill’s primary sponsors in the Assembly, praised the ADL and Garden State Equality for their work in demonstrating the need for the bill.

“They’ve given us great insight into what we could do. Both groups offered tremendous help and assistance,” she said.

Calls to Garden State Equality were not returned by press time.

The legislation is not a panacea for the problem of bullying, Neuer told The Jewish Standard. But, while acknowledging that several schools already handle the issue well, he said he was hopeful that the bill would fix some of the problems in how many schools deal with bullying.

“Many of us can remember being bullied or mistreated in our own school lives,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), one of the bill’s primary sponsors in the Senate. “When you hear the testimony of adults who’ve grown up and still can’t talk about it without becoming teary-eyed — the testimony was certainly heartfelt.”

While bullying has been in the news because of the recent suicide of gay Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, bullying is an across-the-board problem, Weinberg said.

“It’s against all populations — [any] kid who might just be a little different,” she said. “It’s apparently more widespread than any of us knew. When it’s carried to a real extreme, it has very serious consequences.”

Bullying is not just an issue in the public schools. Many of the area’s Jewish day schools have zero-tolerance policies on bullying. Because of the separation between state and religion, however, the government cannot enforce anti-bullying legislation in the private schools, Vainieri Huttle said.

To address this issue, language has been added that non-public schools are encouraged to comply with the bill’s provisions. Another amendment in the bill prevents the legislation from prohibiting students in faith-based schools from freely practicing their faiths.

“We wanted to cover all aspects to make sure they can practice their faith freely and encourage them to adopt these provisions,” Vainieri Huttle said.

If the bill passes both houses as expected next week, it then falls on Gov. Chris Christie to sign it into law. Vainieri Huttle was optimistic that schools could begin implementing changes as early as September 2011.

“Gov. Christie is not just a leader of New Jersey,” Neuer said. “He’s also a dad. He’s a person who has demonstrated empathy for victims before and I think he’s going to see that this bill enjoys tremendous support from young and old, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, and he’ll support it in some fashion.”

Neuer praised Vainieri Huttle for her work in pushing the bill and getting broad bipartisan support for it.

“When all is said and done, thanks to the assemblywoman’s initiatives, New Jersey will have one of the most comprehensive [anti-]bullying laws on the books,” he said.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights calls for:

• Deadlines for bullying incidents to be reported, investigated, and resolved

• Anti-bullying training of school personnel without creating new government entities or increasing taxes

• Every school’s website would post the name and contact info of an anti-bullying specialist

• Grading of each school on its safety, which would be posted on the schools’ websites

• Strengthening suicide prevention training for teachers to include the relationship between bullying and suicide

• Requiring public universities to prohibit bullying and create anti-bullying rules and procedures

Josh Lipowsky can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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