New Jersey Weighs New Anti-Bullying Laws

Sara J Dufort

For eight years, New Jersey has tried to protect students from bullying by passing laws that encourage schools to set up anti-bullying programs. Yet with the recent

People participate in a candlelight vigil for Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi at Brower Commons on the university campus in New Brunswick, N.J., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010. Clementi jumped to his death off a bridge a day after two classmates surreptitiously recorded him having sex with a man in his dorm room and broadcast it over the Internet. (AP Photo/Reena Rose Sibayan)

suicide of a Rutgers student, 18 year old Tyler Clementi, it brings up the question, were they doing enough? Some anti-bullying advocates argue no. Now, New Jersey lawmakers are considering adopting the toughest anti-bullying laws in the United States. Yet what constitutes “enough,” and what are the implications that this could have on the school districts?

Current laws in New Jersey only encourage school districts to implement anti-bullying programs, and strong warnings against bullying in college “code of conduct” information. Senator Diane Allen stated that the earlier laws “broke some ground, but clearly weren’t enough. This one’s going to make a big, big difference.” The problem with the earlier laws was that they were too passive. They only encouraged programs, instead of enforcing and requiring them. Many school employees are not adequately trained to deal with bullying problems; however, the new laws would change this.

Included in the law are provisions about training nearly all school employees of how to identify, handle, and prevent harassment. This is important because harassment often happens in classrooms and on school property. If all employees, not only guidance counselors, were able to identify these problems, it would be detected sooner, rather than later. As well, another provision requires that harassment off campus be reported as well, if they have gotten a compliant. This part of the law is in wake of the more recent attacks occurring on the internet, through things like Facebook and instant messenger clients.

Another way to prevent bullying on schools is addressed in the law as well. Currently, it is difficult for schools to handle bullying, as they don’t have enough man-power, and it is often the sole job of a guidance counselor. The new laws would require that schools form safety teams that would shape policy and that would review how bullying is handled. As well, the schools website would have to clarify who is in charge of bullying issues. This is because, when a parent hears about a problem with bullying with their child, they don’t know who to turn to.

The problem with these laws is that they require money to come from the districts pocket. With any reform, this is obviously going to happen; but the money has to come from somewhere. With the financial crisis still taking its toll on budgets, some people may not want to pay for the extra training involved and the extra time associated with it. Regardless, if these new laws pass, then the school districts would finally be required to do this. They would no longer be able choose, which could save many lives.

Yet with all the proposed new laws and recent wave of suicides still on everyone’s mind, will any effort really be “enough?” There is always the person who slips through the cracks, goes undetected, and can still end up harming themselves, or others.

These laws are definitely a step in the right direction, but the problem with laws like this is that they only come to fruition when a tragedy occurs. This is evident because the original laws in New Jersey were passed due to the shooting at Columbine. What lawmakers need to do is pass preventative measures like the laws currently being proposed before someone has to die because of it. It would be better for people to get in trouble because of bullying, then for a student to take his or her life, because they see it as their only option left.

While the recent suicides have been homosexual teenagers, it is important to note that these laws do not just protect gay students – they protect everyone. Bullying of those in the GLBT community has been more public lately, but they are not the only people being bullied. There is still bullying due to race, religion, and outward appearance.

Hopefully New Jersey will not be the only state that passes vigorous laws to prevent bullying and that other states follow in their footsteps. This step is just the first of many to save lives and ensure that no other tragedies will have to occur due to people being bullied. It will be difficult to measure how the law helps students cope, but if only one life is saved, then the law has done its job.