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New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Law, Toughest In Country, Garners Praise And Criticism

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Schoolyard and lunch line bullies in New Jersey might get much heavier punishment than a trip to the principal's office.

A new state law signed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in January and effective this week redesigns a previous anti-bullying law from 2002 that failed to implement policies to fight bullying in schools, the Statehouse Bureau reports. The law, also known as the "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights," is said to be the toughest piece of anti-bullying legislation in the country.

The law in part stems from the death of Ridgewood High School alumnus Tyler Clementi, who was a freshman at Rutgers University when he committed suicide after falling victim to bullying. Among the legislation's 22 pages are procedures for students and school officials to report, investigate and resolve instances of bullying. The law also mandates that schools appoint anti-bullying specialists and that districts hire an anti-bullying coordinator. Schools and districts must regularly submit reports to the state Department of Education.

"By strengthening standards for preventing, reporting, investigating and responding to incidents of bullying this act will help to reduce the risk of suicide among students and avert not only the needless loss of a young life, but also the tragedy that such loss represents to the student's family and the community at large," the law reads.

But while many parents and teachers applaud bullying prevention, critics of the law are concerned that the legislation puts both an administrative and financial burden on districts and their schools. More than 200 schools across the state have spent a total of over $259,000 for a DVD and 100-page manual to train employees in compliance with the law, the New York Times reports.

Public school employees are now required to complete a training course that includes "training in the protection of students from harassment, intimidation, and bullying, including incidents which occur through electronic communication." Employees must also report any incidents of bullying that they become aware of, regardless of whether the incident occurred in or outside of school. Those who do not will face disciplinary action.

Some districts are also struggling to comply with every piece of the legislation, particularly when a costly implementation comes without additional funding. Moorestown schools Superintendent John Bach told Moorestown Patch that while the regulations are well intended, it "architecturally was put together hastily."

"It's messy. It has a lot of layers. When you have that kind of seismic change, it usually takes a little while to figure out how it works … it's not going to be the work of a day," Bach told Patch. "Like many things, the state requires us to take action, but does not provide us more money."

The "Bill of Rights" charges districts with determining a procedure for students to report acts of bullying, and a way for students to report anonymously -- though those who choose to anonymously report an incident resign the guarantee of formal disciplinary action. Students who are found to have bullied others face suspension or expulsion.

The policy at Ridgewood's school district, where Clementi was a student, states that patterned bullying could reach responses at the level of formal law enforcement, if necessary.

At East Hanover schools, students can anonymously report instances of bullying to the police through a Crimestoppers hot line, according to The Times. East Hanover's Board of Education has also posted a three-page student code of conduct and a seven-page Bullying Incident Report Form, which also permits anonymous tips.

"For anonymous reporting, the district may consider locked boxes located in areas of a school where reports can be submitted without fear of being observed," East Hanover's anti-bullying policy states.

Did New Jersey go too far with this law, or is it appropriate and necessary action? Chime in below.

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