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Sponsors of Landmark Legislation Cite AG’s Findings as Proof of Need for More Accountability to Prevent Bullying, Harassment

The lead sponsors of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights – Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle – today urged Governor Christie to sign the recently passed measure into law in light of the state Attorney General’s announcement yesterday that the Emerson school district failed to stop the continual harassment and assault of a student over the course of six years.

The AG’s investigation concluded that the Emerson Board of Education violated the state’s anti-discrimination law for not dealing with the harassment, which occurred from 2002 to 2007 while the student was attending junior and senior high school. According to the AG’s office, the student was continually bullied, assaulted, and threatened with violence even though the student’s parents reported the incidents to school officials roughly 17 times.

“While Emerson may have had a written ‘zero tolerance’ policy regarding student behavior, this was obviously inadequate,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “The action by our Division on Civil Rights is appropriate, but unfortunately too late to undo the years of damage that have been caused to this student. It’s one thing to have a policy that says harassment and bullying will not be tolerated from students, but if no one is held accountable for enforcing this, the policy is meaningless. The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights will create an entirely new culture of accountability. For the sake of every student being victimized right now, the Governor should sign this bill into law swiftly.”

“If ever there were an incident that highlights the need for Governor Christie to sign the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, this is it,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It should not have taken a large-scale state investigation after the fact to address reported bullying that went on for six years. Clearly, the school’s written policy was not enough. We need to enact this sweeping new law so that we can incorporate a system of accountability from top to bottom. No student should be forced to endure six years of abuse while school officials turn a blind eye to the problem.”

As further evidence of the need to enact the new anti-bullying law, the sponsors cited Attorney General Paula Dow’s admission that the State Division of Civil Rights is seeing an uptick in the filing of formal complaints about bullying in school. The Attorney General noted that while in previous years there were one or two complaints, the division now has nine cases under investigation.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (A-3466/S-2392), which passed both houses of the Legislature on Monday with near unanimous support, is now awaiting Governor Christie’s signature into law. The comprehensive measure would create school safety teams involving a cross section of the school, giving ownership of the problem of bullying to the entire school community. In striving to create a new culture of accountability, the legislation also includes penalties for education officials who fail to report or respond accordingly to incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying. Additionally, the bill requires annual reporting on bullying instances from schools and districts to be passed up directly to the Commissioner of Education and it grades each school on how it handles bullying, harassment and intimidation.