The 2010 suicide of a Rutgers University student brought the issue of bullying to the forefront of the American conversation. For some states, it served as an opportunity to re-examine their existing anti-bullying laws. In response to the incident, New Jersey passed “The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.” It is one of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country and provides considerable resources in combating bullying in schools.
Following the law’s passage, East Hanover K-8 School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ricca took a natural interest in the law. Ricca had done his doctoral thesis on character education and had witnessed firsthand the negative effects of bullying in schools as a teacher, vice principal and principal. He understands that the first step in addressing bullying is to identify and reduce harassment, intimidation and bullying within the school environment.
But he also understands that any successful anti-bullying efforts leverage the support of the whole community. In response to the New Jersey law, he formed a partnership with the Morris County Sheriff’s CrimeStoppers program so students are now able to provide anonymous tips on bullying without fear of consequence. The collaboration, which requires no additional funding, is the first of its kind in the state.
“This gives children, who may be too embarrassed to discuss a bullying incident with an adult at school, the opportunity to contact CrimeStoppers online, with a text message, or a phone call,” said Ricca. Thanks to the implementation of the law, the district now has a robust HIB education program that has created a healthy school climate and culture.
Students weighed in on the issue at a recent roundtable discussion within the district. Elementary students were the most receptive to the law and said they began to see results shortly after the new rules were introduced. “We already notice a big change,” commented one third grader.
A middle school student echoed enthusiasm for the law. “This is a great thing. No one speaks up because they are scared of getting a bad name. Now being anonymous, bad things that happen in school will no longer be kept a secret.”
The opinion from one middle school student underscored the challenge of eliminating bullying in schools altogether. “It is still new and we are hoping this causes change, but bullying is bullying and to some extent will always be present in schools,” said the eighth grader.
Ricca, who was recently appointed to head Governor Chris Christie’s Anti-Bullying Task Force, has become a tireless advocate on the issue and won’t be satisfied until bullying is eradicated in schools. Ricca looks forward to the upcoming school year where he has planned events to engage the community beginning with the “2nd Annual Community Night of Respect” in October.
Visit stopbullying.gov for more information on how you can help stop bullying, read about and watch the third Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit happening today, and take the StopBullying Video Challenge.
Jacquelyn Pitta works in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach in the New York City regional office.