Is there really any substantive difference between the actions of former Rutgers Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Rice and those of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie?
Both have used offensive language – Rice against players in what he probably but erroneously figured was a way to motivate them, and Christie against female legislators like Senator Weinberg and Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle for political reasons. Of course, that’s just the top of the Christie iceberg.
Rice was fired, and his superiors’ jobs are in jeopardy. Yet Christie is still here.
I guess basketball coaches are held to a higher standard than governors.
As a legislator, what do you do after you spearhead the nation’s most comprehensive anti-bullying legislation into law? If you’re Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, you don’t rest on your laurels. Instead, you tackle another human rights challenge.
Today, the Assembly Judiciary Committee took testimony on a bipartisan bill that is being shepherded through the legislature by Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle – a bill to combat a scourge that is often under the radar but ruins countless lives. The bill was heard (and passed) through the Assembly Judiciary Committee today.
Human trafficking is an insidious problem that is pervasive across the country. It enslaves children into the dark world of prostitution and forced labor. History shows that high profile events like the Super Bowl, which comes to New Jersey in 2014, attract these human traffickers and their clients.
While there are already laws on the books and there have been arrests made, testimony at today’s hearing revealed that there have been no convictions for human trafficking in New Jersey in the past six years. Vainieri Huttle’s bill adds fines and additional regulations.
While the two Republicans on the panel expressed support for the concept, they also voiced concerns about the constitutionality of some of the provisions and contended that the requirement to train law enforcement officials was an unfunded mandate. Both (Michael Patrick Carroll and Holly Schepisi) abstained from supporting the bill as written. All the Democrats on the panel voted in favor.
In an interview with Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle after the hearing (below), she addressed the concerns that were brought up and stressed that this bill has bipartisan support. She said she will proactively work with her colleagues in the Assembly and in the Senate, where the bill is yet to be introduced, to amend the language to meet the concerns of all parties. No doubt she will work tirelessly to help abate this human rights problem.
Governor Chris Christie’s claim to fame is not his radical right-wing agenda but rather his reputation as a bully. And while Christie’s name calling, whining, and using taxpayer funds to advance his political agenda are not as egregious as Mitt Romney’s collegiate physical bullying, Christie’s actions nevertheless set a poor example for the children and adults of New Jersey.
Fortunately, within the New Jersey political sphere there’s a counterpoint to Christie’s false bravado – someone who has worked tirelessly to address the real problem of bullying in our schools and society.
No matter where you are on yesterday’s sentencing of Dharun Ravi, one fact is clear: Bullying creates unpredictable outcomes. You don’t know when you watch a kid getting punched on the bus every day, or humiliated in the locker room, or spied on with a webcam, who won’t be able to take it.
Bully follows 5 kids facing abuse from their peers every day, and their parents, and tracks two boys who took their own lives. It’s a labor of love, and some heartbreak, to the film’s director Lee Hirsch, who was bullied as a kid.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, prime sponsor of NJ’s anti-bullying bill, and her husband Englewood mayor Frank Huttle, arranged for the film to be shown, free. Garden State Equality is getting out the word. The film, rated R for language, was the subject of a widely-circulated change.org petition to change that rating, which would have restricted most kids from seeing it and kept it out of schools. When the MPAA refused to change it, the producers released it unrated. Because so many chain theaters won’t screen unrated films, only art houses and some independents showed it. And I think it’s worth seeing:
“Bully” screening & RSVP details below the trailer. You can skip past the ad by clicking the link in the video’s right side.
Wednesday, May 30 – 6pm
Discussion follows film
Bergen Performing Arts Center,30 North Van Brunt Street, Englewood
Tickets/RSVP’s aren’t necessary to attend, but priority seating is through the RSVP, so it’s recommended, given that turnout may me large for this free film. Email your name(s) and phone number(s) to AswHuttle@njleg.org.
Through the efforts of Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri-Huttle and others, New Jersey has one of the most thorough school anti-bullying programs in the nation. But while the existing legislation addresses how to handle student-on-student incidents, recent events have unfortunately revealed that there is also bullying of children, especially some of the most vulnerable, by teachers and other school employees.
Today, Senator Diane Allen held a press conference to announce that she is introducing legislation to address this issue. She said the bill would accelerate the process of investigating bullying allegations and reduce the time for resolution from several years to six weeks or less. The bill addresses the process for both tenured and non-tenured teachers.
School employees who are found to have bullied would lose not only their jobs, but also their certification.
No one can argue with the senator’s goal of eliminating bullying. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions that will be discussed at hearings on this proposed legislation. The Commissioner of Education, no friend to public school teachers, has the final say on alleged incidents. Non-tenured teachers can be fired immediately upon recommendation by their superintendents. Teachers who are under investigation may lose their pay during that period, and that pay would be restored only if and when charges are dismissed (how many teachers can survive with six weeks of lost income?).
Assemblywoman Vanieri-Huttle told me today that while she has not yet had the opportunity to review the proposed legislation, she supports it in principal. “Any misconduct must be swiftly addressed”, she said, regardless of whether it comes from a student or a teacher. She said that she will discuss the bill in detail after she has had a chance to review it.
The legislative process allows all stakeholders – students, teachers, parents, and administrators – to provide their input during the legislative hearings. As of posting time, the NJEA had not responded to Blue Jersey’s request for comment. Below is Senator Allen’s press conference in its entirety, including comments from a student who was bullied by a teacher; his parents; and the father of a Cherry Hill student who allegedly was bullied.
The suicide of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi moved forward efforts to protect students from bullying in all its forms, and helped drive and focus a New Jersey – and national – movement to protect gay rights. Gardent State Equality, in New Jersey, has been central to that fight. And we have all been watching for this verdict, knowing it won’t restore Tyler to his family, but may change the way all of us think of the lives of the people around us, with the respect each of us deserve.
Here is the statement following the Dharun Ravi verdict. (For disclosure’s sake, I should note that I am a member of the Garden State Equality board).
Among the guilty verdicts returned today against Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers student and roommate of Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death a few days after learning Ravi was spying on his private sexual encounters with another man in the dorm room he shared with Ravi:
GUILTY: Bias intimidation against Tyler Clementi
GUILTY: Invasion of privacy against Tyler Clementi
GUILTY: Invasion of privacy against M.B. (the other man)
GUILTY: Witness tampering
GUILTY: Evidence tampering
Star-Ledger details all counts here. (h/t dennismcgrath)
After 12 hours of deliberation over almost 3 days, the jury and 3 alternates (who did not participate in deliberations) have returned their verdicts. The trial played out over almost two weeks, with more than 30 witnesses, including dorm mates of both Ravi and Clementi, and Molly Wei, who viewed the webcam spying of Tyler Clementi’s private moments in his dorm room along with the “other man” whose identity is still being protected and is known only as M.B.. Ravi was also convicted of invading M.B.’s privacy along with Clementi, as both of them were glimpsed on Ravi’s webcam in moments meant to be private, but viewed in another room in the dorm.
The jury judged Ravi guilty of 23 of the 35 counts against him, fifteen of which are felonies.
The trial stretched over 13 days including opening and closing statements, with more than 30 witnesses and 100 pieces of evidence.
Note: Since I wrote this diary, reports have surfaced that Viki Knox indeed brought her views into the classroom on several occasions, likely violating the district policies and state law in the process. Worse, she violated a student’s First Amendment rights by kicking the student out of class for wearing a rainbow bracelet.
Viki Knox’s illegal conduct in the classroom raises substantial doubts about her fitness as a teacher. She ought to be fired. At the very least, she should be suspended for a prolonged period of time and must not set foot in another classroom until she understands that she needs to set her personal views aside and follow the laws of New Jersey, the policies of her school district, and the instructions of her superiors.
October, as many Blue Jersey readers know, is LGBT history month. To commemorate the occassion, Union Township High School set up a photo display featuring several famous gay and lesbian celebrities and historical figures.
Yet, this evening, Garden State Equality has organized dozens to protest a meeting of the Union Public School District Board of Education. GSE is not satisfied with school’s affirming message to gay and lesbian students. It wants the district to fire a schoolteacher who responded to the display with homophobic Facebook posts of the sort that one would expect from, say, the Westboro Baptist Church.
Make no mistake, Union Township High School special education teacher Viki Knox’s comments were reprehensible; Ms. Knox calls homosexuality a “perverted spirit” and compares it to cancer and alcoholism. But there are at least two problems with Garden State Equality’s impulsive response to these posts. First, in its hasty reaction to the teacher’s posts, the organization stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the competing values at stake. Second, GSE is doing a disservice to gay and lesbian students at Union Townshsip High School and across the state by passing up more effective responses to this controversy.
The First Amendment gives Viki Knox the right to express her opinions, asinine and offensive as they may be. As I will show below the fold, whether the school district may fire or otherwise discipline her is a close question that will probably turn on facts to be uncovered by investigation.