New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights

             “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

               Before you are six or seven or eight,

               To hate all the people your relatives hate,

               You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

As Rodgers and Hammerstein expressed in their 1949 musical South Pacific, bullying and discrimination are linked together, start at an early age, and can be a “learned” activity influenced by family members. Altering our NJ school environment is an essential step.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) and Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) will introduce on Monday the eagerly anticipated harrassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) awareness and prevention legislation. It is expected that it will have bipartisan support, including Assemblywoman Pat Angelini (R-11), and Senators Diane Allen (R-7) and Thomas Goodwin (R-14).

Their bill is squarely aimed at the school environment where discrimination and bullying often begin. It will provide that training on HIB be a part of the training required for public school teaching staff members in suicide prevention. It will create a fund for state grants to school districts. It will include sections on enforcement and response to HIB and on accountability of schools, districts and the state. It will also require the addition of an anti-bullying policy and enforcement mechanism to the student code of conduct of every public college and university. A link to the full bill will be posted in this diary as soon as it is introduced in the legislature.  

On Friday President Obama released his video It Gets Better. In it he says “When I was a young adult, I faced the jokes and taunting that too many of our youth face today, and I considered suicide as a way out.¬†One of my co-workers recognized that I was hurting. She cared enough to push me to seek help.” This NJ bill will be a critical step in preventing and providing support for so many people who, like President Obama, know the pain and trauma bullying can cause. Kudos to Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Barbara Buono and all who helped shape the bill. We wish it a successful and speedy trip on the way to enactment.


Comments (6)

  1. Senator Loretta Weinberg

    But as a prime sponsor along with Senators Buono and Allen, I know we’ll get this bill passed soon. Thank you to Steven Goldstein, Garden State Equality and my colleague, Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, for all their hard work.  Barbara Buono and I did the original anti-bullying legislation some three years ago, so we are aware of its shortcomings and the need for this new bill.  

  2. Steven Goldstein, Garden State Equality chair

    Hi, everyone.  Today, Monday, at 11:00 am in Room 109 of the State House, legislators of both parties, as well as New Jerseyans who’ve lived through bullying, and parents of bullied students, are holding a news conference to unveil the bill.

    For about a year now, Garden State Equality, working with the Anti-Defamation League of New Jersey, the New Jersey Coalition on Bullying Awareness and Prevention, and the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, has hunkered down and conducted massive research and interviews with experts from across the state and national into what would make an anti-bullying law truly effective.  45 states around the country have anti-bullying laws, but all of them – including New Jersey’s current law – are extremely weak.  The 45 existing laws are largely based on the same template, so we really had to start from scratch.  

    We’ll post the sponsors of the bill on Monday – but indeed, in the Senate, the three prime sponsors are Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen).  In the Assembly, the prime sponsors are Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth) and several others.

    This bill will have very significant bipartisan support from the get-go.

    Before I get to the highlights of the bill, a personal word, if I may:  We at Garden State Equality asked so many legislators to sponsor this bill, including legislators who have differed with us on other issues.  They have said yes, and we embrace them.  

    We don’t believe any organization should write off or dissuade legislators who opposed us before – say, on marriage equality – from supporting a bill that can improve and even save students’ lives.  It would be tough to pass any legislation if we took the approach of, you voted against us once and we never want your support for anything else again.  

    It doesn’t mean we won’t remember, but it does mean we form whatever political coalitions we can on whatever bills we can.  

    Here are highlights of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights:

    — The bill protects all students, including bullying based on “any actual or perceived characteristic of a student, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, disability, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other characteristic.”  

    Thus the bill continues the wording of the 2002 law, which was smart wording –  enumerating categories of students but not limiting protection to students in those categories.  This bill protects ALL bullied students.

    — The bill’s provisions apply to bullying at school, near school and on school buses and to cyberbullying.

    — The bill sets deadlines for incidents of bullying to be reported, investigated and resolved.   School personnel will have to report incidents of bullying to principals on the same day as the incidents.   Principals will have to inform parents or guardians on the same day as the incidents.  An investigation will have to begin within one school day of an incident and be resolved within 10 school days of an incident.  

    — The bill provides for anti-bullying training of school personnel by involving a cross-section of top experts from academia and the not-for-profit sector.  

    — The bill creates an anti-bullying specialist within each school, who would be the school guidance counselor or equivalent staff member, thus maximizing existing resources and stressing fiscal responsibility.  The anti-bullying specialist shall head a school safety team, to include the principal, a teacher and a parent, to help the school maintain a climate free of bullying.  

    — The bill provides that the name and contact information of the anti-bullying specialist be posted on the home page of every school’s website.

    — The bill provides for the grading of each school on its safety, and provides that each school must put that grade on the home page of its website.

    — The bill incorporates instruction to counter bullying appropriate to each grade, and creates an annual school-wide Week of Respect during which school will provide anti-bullying programming.

    — The bill strengthens suicide prevention training for teachers, already required under a 2003 New Jersey law, to include information on the relationship between bullying and suicide, and information on reducing the occurrence of suicide among students most at risk.

    — The bill provides that public universities in the state must prohibit bullying and create anti-bullying rules and procedures for handling bullying, and distribute the rules and procedures to every university student within seven days of the start of the fall semester.

    — The bill updates the outmoded definition of bullying in New Jersey’s current law, one of the narrowest and weakest definitions of any anti-bullying law in the country.  The current law, enacted in 2002, mandates protection for bullied students only when they face harm or the threat of harm to themselves or their property or where there is a substantial disruption in school.  Our bill, like subsequent, stronger anti-bullying laws across the country, will also protect students where bullying has created a hostile environment for them at school or infringes on their rights at school.    


  3. Bill Orr (Post author)

    In an uncommon show of bipartisanship the NJ Republican Assembly website touts this legislation: “Angelini Bill Creates Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.”

    However, the first five comments following today’s Star Ledger’s article, which Blue Jersey scooped, are:


    “We seem to be on a path to restriction of speech.”

    “This is what being PC leads to.”

    “More nonsense from the nanny state.”

    “The biggest concentration of bullies is in the legislature.”

    We often see very negative comments on democratic legislation. On ME the comments were often nasty, but so much anger, even on a bipartisan bill!  

  4. Bertin Lefkovic

    When I think back to my younger days and the kids who were the most active bullies, most, if not all, of them had terrible home situations.

    It seems logical to me that one of the first things that should happen when a young person is found to have harrassed, intimidated, or bullied another young person is that their home situation should be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny and corrective measures.

    In addition to being a potential deterrent, this could also dramatically improve life for both the victim and the bully.

  5. Bill Orr (Post author)

    Good question, but the bill says little about parents. It mentions that a District Safety Team “must educate the community, including students, teachers, administrative staff, and parents, to prevent and address HIB of students.”  Incidence reports, guidance counselors, suspension, and even criminal conduct can become involved, so at some point parents presumably are contacted and questioned. But I see no mention of parental accountability in the bill.

  6. Bertin Lefkovic

    …I guess that is something that would be hard to address and also potentially controversial and divisive in a bill such as this, but in my opinion, it should be an essential component.

    While I do not want to seem overly critical of legislation that is as groundbreaking and important as this, it just seems that like so much of public policy, it is geared towards how to respond to a crisis rather than how to prevent one or at the very least limit the occurrence of future ones.

    Every conversation that I have ever had about bullying has always devolved into an acceptance of how cruel children can be as a societal norm rather than an opportunity to examine why any children are cruel at all and why some are crueler than others.

    In my opinion, having such a comprehensive response system to incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying in place should create opportunities to involve the existing DYFS infrastructure to red flag the homes of young people involved in such incidents for future action.


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