Jewish community activists are hailing the near-unanimous passage of a New Jersey law that is believed to be among the toughest anti-bullying statutes in the nation.
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights sailed through the State Assembly Nov. 22 by a vote of 71 to 1, with five abstentions. In the State Senate, it was approved 30-0.
Since 2007, the Anti-Defamation League has held a seat on the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in the Schools, which played a major role in drafting the legislation.
It requires school personnel to take part in anti-bullying and suicide prevention training; the disciplining of administrators who fail to act on bullying complaints on or off school property; and school superintendents to make semi-annual reports on all acts of violence, bullying, intimidation, and harassment.
In a joint statement, ADL’s regional board chair Lawrence Cooper and regional director Etzion Neuer said the new law “is critical to ensuring that New Jersey children can learn in a safer atmosphere. By creating school safety teams composed of a cross section of the school, the legislation gives ownership of the problem of harassment, intimidation, and bullying to the entire school community. Students who feel unsafe in school cannot learn, and this new law will make a significant difference for students.”
The bill’s passage was hastened after the suicide in September of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who was outed as gay on the Internet by two classmates.
Rabbinical student Steven Goldstein, who heads the gay rights organization Garden State Equality, said in a press release shortly after the bill’s passage, “As someone brutally bullied in my own youth, I can’t even begin to describe how the passage of this bill is a moment of deeply poignant, personal healing for me and thousands of others who have been bullied. The best revenge is to make the world a kinder place. This legislation will make our state a kinder, safer place for students for generations to come.”
The bill will officially become law after it is signed by Gov. Chris Christie. But one day after its passage, the state’s Civil Rights Division ruled there was probable cause to take legal action against the Emerson School Board for ignoring a gay student’s repeated complaints of violence and harassment in 2006 and 2007.
School board officials have denied the charges, which could result in a $10,000 fine if proven.
“Lives are at stake,” said Goldstein in a follow-up press release. “Every day that schools allow the bullying of our students is another day those schools play Russian Roulette with those students’ lives.”