Tag Archive | "New Jersey anti-bullying law"

The Answer to the Problem (New Jersey’s New Anti-Bullying Law)

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In a recent episode of Rizzoli and Isles, Detective Jane Rizzoli is ordered to undergo mandatory sensitivity training. When she balks, the order is enforced after she mildly belittles a witness withholding information during an interrogation tied to two murders — a witness who had previously barraged the detective with uninvited sexual comments and who’d gone so far to fondle her derriere.  Jane takes the training and becomes saccharine-sweet to the witness.  Once he’s left the precinct, she reverts to street smart Detective Jane Rizzoli.

What cops do to extract information leading to the arrest of murderers, rapists, and child molesters is a lot different than what bullies do within the confines of a school building or during extra-curricular activities.  And costly and time-consuming sensitivity training is not the answer to the increasingly rampant crime of bullying.  The answer lies elsewhere: in common sense.

Although the toughest in the nation, New Jersey’s recently enacted anti-bullying law has garnered more criticism than praise — even from those who laud the concepts behind that law.  Detractors insist that the school districts, already lashed to choking budgets like men to the masts of sinking ships, cannot pay to train faculty to implement this new initiative. Neither can the districts foot the bill for the lawsuits that, in this politically correct environment, are sure to follow.  And, being so politically correct, some pundits are genuinely concerned about bullies’ rights to free speech being trampled beneath the law!

Obviously, we sorely need that law to address this escalating problem, but a little, no-cost revamping is in order.  Nationwide, bullying has been linked directly and with increasing frequency to student suicides, clinical depression, a host of psychologically induced physical ailments, shunning, poor grades, and a rising student dropout rate.  As someone acquainted with a teenager targeted by bullying, I can attest first hand to its long lasting effects.  To watch a once normal, vibrant teen metamorphose into a sad shadow of herself, to see that teen hospitalized twice as a direct result of depression brought on by bullying, and to fail to give her any real assistance (as have others, including professionals) is a heart-wrenching experience.  Image how the victim herself must feel.

So, we’ve got to do something about bullying.  We can start by revising Jersey’s new law.

First, we must remove the unofficial title of “police officer” from our teachers and the onus associated with that title.  Educators are expected to be mentors, instructors, role models, and facilitators of learning.  In the State of New Jersey, teachers are also told to implement adaptive learning techniques a la the “No Child Left Behind Act.”  This means that they must reconfigure their lesson plans to meet students’ specific modes of learning, which are diverse.

In addition to this very heavy load, teachers must also serve as keepers of the peace in their own classrooms.  When teachers are interviewed in this State for potential jobs, the first thing an administrator usually asks is, “How do you keep peace in your classroom?”  Time after time, I’ve heard this in doing work for many educators.

But in asking that question, “How do you keep the peace in your classroom?” we are, in effect, demanding that educators to do the job that the parents are too unwilling, too lazy, or too inept to accomplish.  That job is to raise human beings who respect each other with words and actions.  Therefore, I suggest we throw the onus of the bullying problem back upon the parents, where it belongs.

In doing so, guidelines must be established.  Degrees of bullying must be clearly defined, and each degree must carry its own consequence.  For one student to call another a nerd, a dweeb, a jerk, or a similar epithet is not, in my estimation — nor, I’ll wager, in the estimation of any sane adult — bullying.  Kids will be kids, after all.  But when the remarks and/or actions escalate, meaning, when they are sustained and clearly hurtful, when they are aimed repeatedly at one particular student, when they take on another color altogether (i.e., bias based upon race, religion, sexual orientation, the inability to excel at sports, a physical or mental disability, or the myriad other things for which some kids choose to torment others), then it becomes bullying.

Having defined the practice of bullying, the next step is for all parents to sign a waiver at the beginning of the school year.  The definition of bullying, and the consequences for bullying, must be spelled out clearly in the waiver.  This waiver will absolve the school of any liability, in cases where children will be found guilty of, and receive consequences for, bullying.  Parents who do not wish to sign the waiver will have their children expelled immediately.  It is imperative that this be written into the formal, State law, rather than done on a district-to-district or voluntary basis.

It’s imperative for two reasons, the first of which is, “United we stand, divided we fall.”  If every school adopts this policy under law, there will exist no alternative school into which parents can dump their bullying offspring.  And, if the law encompasses the entire State, parents who don’t raise their children properly can contest it with the State instead of suing school systems (read: taxpayers) struggling to educate and empower children.

Once incidents of bullying have been established via credible, eyewitness reports and documentation — and there should be a consequence for those who witness bullying and do not report it — the offenders should be made to stand on a stage in the school auditorium.  An assembly of the entire school should be called.  Once on public display, the offender should be made to disrobe completely and stand stock still in complete silence for five minutes.  It will be the longest five minutes of the offender’s life; never will he forget this experience.

It should go without saying that the bully is not to make lewd or other gestures during this time.  Neither is the audience sanctioned to make comments or gestures of any kind.  No one is to use violence upon the offender.  All the audience gets to do is stare.

Many children have siblings of the opposite sex, and those who don’t usually learn from an early age what the genitals of the opposite sex look like.  While no one is harmed or directly mocked with this “strip show,” the bully is singled out and humiliated — which is exactly what he did to his victim(s).  Lesson learned: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you … or suffer the consequences.”

If the bullying continues via a second episode, the bully’s parents will be fined $3,000 for the offense, a more than reasonable amount.  It’s enough to be so memorable that parents will take steps to see that their progeny improve their behavior.  Once collected, the fines should be placed into a dedicated account, with the proper safeguards against embezzlement.  The account should be earmarked to fund vital school programs and educational resources.  Documentation of bullying and corroboration from eyewitnesses, as stated above, will prevent falsified claims and accompanying fines.

Bullies must also make public and sincere apologies to their victim(s) during the above-mentioned assembly.  Apologies must include a list of the victim’s positive qualities.  Aired publicly before the entire student body and faculty, these announcements should help to reduce the impact of the torment upon the victims.  And, they may begin to make genuine peace between victim and tormenter.

If a third instance of bullying occurs, it will be followed by immediate expulsion of the offending party.  Additionally, a report of his bullying will be documented in his permanent records: records that will follow him into college, if he gets that far, and into the job market. College faculty and administrators, fellow students, and future employers have every right to know about the presence of a bully in their midst.  In the work force, these steps can mitigate workplace violence.  And we are all acutely aware of the effects of violence in schools, violence perpetrated by twisted students.

This sounds like a viable plan to me.  Not a penny comes out of the school systems (i.e., the taxpayers).  No one is harmed.  Parents and students know up front what to expect.  And most importantly, bullies learn not to bully. 

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