New Jersey Superintendent & CrimeStoppers Collaborate to Fight Bullying

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.

Students paint during East Hanover's Community Night of Respect

During the East Hanover's Community Night of Respect, while the parents, guardians, and other community members are listening to the speakers, students participated in different events focused on character education, respect, responsibility, being a good citizen, identifying and reporting bullying and conflict resolution.

“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. 

1 Comment

  1. Responding to the horrendous murder of four of our area police officers, and observing the sad helpless and hopelessness in our community, state and nation, I was able to convene and group of community members from different walks of life, and we founded our Blue Light Coalition, which we named at our 1st meeting, along with securing a web site.

    Initially, we simply wanted to provide a space where those in “emotional pain” could release that pain by sharing their feelings. Over time, (we’re a bit over two years old), we’ve developed an elementary school CURRICULUM to help children learn THEY CAN BE SAFE, through our newly developed “THUMBS UP” PROGRAM, WHICH STARTS WITH AN ALL SCHOOL ASSEMBLY, FEATURING A WASHINGTON STATE TROOPER. (Please see our web site, BlueLightCoalition.org for further details). Our logo is the easily recognized blue light police use when stopping vehicles on the road, with the smiling face of a child “popping out” of the light with a big thumb up. The caption under the logo is HAPPY-! MEANING Honor All Public Protectors-Yes! All our assemblies cover safety issues, including guns, bullying, etc., followed by age-appropriate classroom instruction. Our goal is to reach all 60+ thousand elementary students in Pierce County, without cost to schools or police departments.

    Just a bit about myself: Starting as an elementary school teacher, I’ve been a “jack of all trades in education” including counselling, building/district administration, and the 1st student suspensions hearing officer for Tacoma School District, where I also served six years as District School Board Member with a year as Board President. My biggest challenge was always the “turned off” kid; turned off all authority figures, and my greatest joy has always been to witness their “turn around” behavior! I’m also proud of my positive contact with our U.S. Dept of Education over the years!

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