New Jersey knew it had a bullying problem after a 2009 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the percentage of students bullied in the state was one point higher than the national average. The momentum surrounding the antibullying movement in the state peaked last September when a Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide after his roommate streamed a video of Clementi with another male student over the Internet. State legislators then moved quickly to pass the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights on Jan. 6, 2011, which will be effective Sept. 1. Thus far, the bill has proven to be the toughest statewide antibullying legislation in the country.
"The goal is to get people to know how to report it, investigate it, and deal with it," says Leonard Dietzen, an attorney who represents school boards and districts with Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell in the state of Florida. Dietzen wrote "New Jersey Gets Tough on Harassment and Bullying," in School Leader, the publication of the New Jersey School Boards Association.
An investigation will begin the day after a bullying incident occurs, and there will be a 10-day deadline to resolve the issue. School safety teams will be formed and administrators will be disciplined if they do not investigate complaints, and the state will grade school districts on how effectively they tackle problems.
In December 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a memo to state leaders outlining best practices to combat bullying. He highlighted effective laws in other states, including Florida's, because it defines prohibited conduct, and Georgia, which prohibits the retaliation of those who report incidents.
Although the superintendent of Glen Rock (N.J.) Public Schools, David Verducci, agrees with many elements of the law, he feels the bill may have been a "knee-jerk reaction to the crisis du jour" and that complying with new state regulations will cost districts and may not tackle the central issue.
"I would have preferred the state set up standards and allowed districts to figure out how to meet those standards. One size does not fit all," says Verducci, who explains that Glen Rock, a suburban district of 2,600 students, already has a strong bullying policy and that restructuring it will cost a few thousand dollars.
Dietzen, however, would like to see more states adopting similar policies. "There are still many unanswered questions," he says, "but this is a great step."