After both houses of the New Jersey legislature voted overwhelmingly (102-1) on November 22 to approve the "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights," Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday signed the bill, making New Jersey's law against bullying and harassment the toughest in the nation. The law goes into effect at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, and it applies to all public schools. Portions of the law also apply to public colleges.
The bill strengthens New Jersey's existing law against bullying, which has been on the books since 2002. Whereas certain anti-bullying measures were once recommended, many are now required. Among them:
1) Specific people in each school and district must be appointed to run anti-bullying programs.
2) Bullying episodes must be investigated within a day after they occur.
3) Teachers, administrators and school board members must undergo anti-bullying training.
4) Superintendents must make public reports twice annually that detail any bullying episodes in each school. Each school will then receive a letter grade that is to be posted on its Web site.
The law also lists harassment, intimidation or bullying as grounds for suspension or expulsion from school.
Though 45 states have laws against bullying, none of them is as strong or as detailed as New Jersey's new law.
"Other states have bits and pieces of what this New Jersey law has, but none of them is as broad, getting to this level of detail, and requiring them, step by step, to do the right thing for students," said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director at the Human Rights Campaign.
Of the 45 states with laws against bullying, it's worth noting that many of them do not offer the protections of the 2002 New Jersey law, which made it a crime to harass on the basis of a person's race, sex, sexual/gender identity or disability.
Steven Goldstein is the chairman and CEO of Garden State Equality, New Jersey's statewide LGBT advocacy organization, and he was very involved in drafting the law. He says the realization of this law is nothing short of historic for New Jersey and an example for the rest of the country.
"This is one of the great civil rights laws in New Jersey history, and to have a fairly conservative Republican governor sign it sends a resounding signal to other states," said Goldstein. "It's also a major achievement for bipartisan governance in New Jersey."
"The idea is just to make the climate of school one of tolerance and respect," said State Senator Barbara Brown, a prime sponsor of the bill.
GLAAD congratulates Gov. Christie, New Jersey's legislators, Garden State Equality and all those who worked so tirelessly to make New Jersey the U.S. leader in preventing bullying in our nation's schools. We look forward to watching other states follow suit.