Do New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Policies Go Too Far?

Across the country schools are doing more to combat bullying, but no state is doing as much to address the problem as New Jersey. The state has passed the strictest legislation on bullying in the nation, and tomorrow the new law, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, will go into effect. Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi's suicide nearly a year ago spurred New Jersey lawmakers to take the issue seriously, but now some are worried that schools will become too involved in normal childhood conflicts.

The new legislation requires that every New Jersey public school adopt comprehensive antibullying policies, including a long list of required components. The New York Times reports:

Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.

In addition, principals must investigate reports of bullying within one day, and send detailed reports to the capitol twice a year. Staffers, including substitute teachers, coaches, custodians and cafeteria aides in some districts, are being trained in new ways to address bullying.

In most schools guidance counselors and social workers are being tasked with looking into reports of conflicts between students. Some are concerned that they'll be deluged by so many complaints about students harassing each other that they won't have time to handle their usual duties. The law also raises the possibility of more schools being sued for failing to stop bullying. One district is even involving law enforcement in the initial reporting of an incident, by allowing students and parents to submit anonymous tips to Crimestoppers, a program run by the sherrif's office, which will then pass information on to the school and local authorities.

Schools lacking the resources to handle all the new reports is a legitimate concern, but if they're actually being inundated with bullying complaints, new staffers can be hired. Westfield superintendant Margaret Dolan warned that the new emphasis on reporting bullying could lead to overreporting and kids being unable to handle problems on their own, adding, "What a shame if they don't know how to effectively interact with their peers when they have a disagreement." While there will probably be a few people who abuse the system, kids aren't going to be so enthusiastic about antibullying measures that they start reporting every little incident. If you look over the timeline of deaths linked to bullying last year, many of the problems started out with texts or a few nasty comments, then spiraled out of control. The state should be commended for trying to create a better way for educators to identify which students are in really in trouble, and step in before something tragic happens.

Bullying Law Puts New Jersey Schools on Spot [NYT]