On January 6, 2011, New Jersey enacted the nation’s toughest law against bullying and harassment in schools. The law, which goes into effect at the start of the next school year, lists harassment, intimidation or bullying as grounds for suspension or even expulsion from school. It applies to public schools, and portions of it apply to public colleges.
A bill had been in the works since 2009, but it gained momentum last fall. It passed both houses of the Legislature on Nov 22 and was signed into law on January 6. Forty-five states have laws against bullying, and New Jersey has had one since 2002, including a 2007 amendment covering cyber-bullying. New Jersey becomes the fifth state to adopt a new law in the past year and the first that sets statewide deadlines for incidents of bullying to be reported, investigated and resolved.
Highlights of the bill include:
*Teachers and other school personnel must report incidents of bullying to Principals on the same day as a bullying incident. An investigation of the bullying must begin within one school day. A school must complete its investigation of bullying within ten school days, after which there must be a resolution of the situation.
*There must be an anti-bullying coordinator in every district, and an anti-bullying specialist in every school to lead an anti-bullying team that also includes the Principal, a teacher, and a parent.
*Every school will be graded on how well it is countering bullying-and requires that every school post its grade on the home page of its website, Also on the home page, every school must post contact information for its anti-bullying specialist.
*It ensures quality control in anti-bullying training by requiring the involvement of experts from academia and the not-for-profit sector.
*It provides for training to teachers in suicide prevention specifically with regard to students from communities at high risk for suicide.
*It applies not only to students in grades K-12, but also to higher education. Public Universities in New Jersey will have to distribute their anti-bullying policies to all students within seven days of the start of the fall semester.
*The law applies to extracurricular school-related settings, such as cyberbullying, school buses, school-sponsored functions, and to bullying off school grounds that carries over into school.
*A school is required to notify the parents of all students involved in an incident, including the parents of the bully and the bullied student, and offers counseling and intervention services.
*The law mandates year-round anti-bullying instruction appropriate to each grade, and an annual Week of Respect in every school that will feature anti-bullying programming.
*The law applies to all bullied students. In addition to protecting students based on the categories of actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression, the law has clear language protecting students bullied for any other reason.
A complete text of the new law is available at: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2010/Bills/A3500/3466_I2.PDF