Published Friday, January 07, 2011 on NJ.com
By Matt Friedman/Statehouse Bureau
Gov. Chris Christie has signed a bill that, advocates say, gives New Jersey the toughest anti-bullying law in the country.
The news reached Garden State Equality Chairman Steven Goldstein during a Somerset conference on reducing the risk of suicide for gay and lesbian teens.
“This is no overstatement. Today is one of the most important civil-rights days in New Jersey history,” said Goldstein. “Gov. Christie signed a law that is so different and so much better than anti-bullying laws that exist elsewhere across the country, that it’s stunning.”
The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” is intended to eliminate loopholes in the state’s first anti-bullying law, enacted in 2002, that encouraged school districts to set up programs to combat bullying but did not mandate it.
The bill, in the works for almost a year, gained momentum after the suicide in September of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, whose roommate streamed a romantic encounter between him and another man over the internet.
“The Tyler Clementi tragedy was certainly uppermost in legislators’ minds in acting as quickly and boldly as they did,” said Goldstein. “New Jersey would have passed some law, but it wouldn’t have happened as quickly and it would have no where as strong as the law that just passed.”
The new law will require training for most public school teachers, administrators and other employees on how to spot bullying and mandate that all districts form a “school safety team” to review complaints. School districts would be graded by the state on their efforts to combat the problem.
Administrators who do not investigate reported incidents of bullying would be disciplined, while students who bully could be suspended or expelled. School employees would also be required to report all incidents they learn of, whether they took place in or outside of school.
The bill sailed through the Assembly and Senate in November. It passed 73-1, with 5 abstentions, in the Assembly, and 30-0 in the Senate.
Christie signed the bill Wednesday, spokesman Michael Drewniak said.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), a sponsor, said she thinks the bill will protect vulnerable students.”I also hope when they go to school they have a sense of safety and be free from being intimidated or harassed,” she said.
Staff writer Bob Considine contributed to this report.
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