Do New Jersey Anti-Bullying Laws Go Too Far?

Most of us are familiar with the bullying of school-age children and may have even experienced it ourselves. With the advent of the Internet and social media, bullying has gone high-tech.

Many bullies are shifting their tactics away from the schoolyard and onto Facebook or other online outlets through Internet cyberbullying that involves threats and harassment. In response, parents and school boards are implementing new techniques to curb these occurrences. New Jersey is at the forefront of this anti-bullying movement with the passage of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights in September 2011.

The law is designed to help educate students, parents and school officials about bullying at school and online. The law and resulting educational campaign aim to teach that bullying in all forms is wrong and that everyone has a responsibility to report it.

Beyond simply educating the public and those who might be touched by bullying, the New Jersey law also requires that each school in the state employ an anti-bullying specialist (usually a guidance counselor or social worker) whose job is to investigate all complaints of bullying. All this is being done so that bullying does not escalate from school campuses to the Internet, where it is outside the direct supervision of educators and even parents.

While the new law enjoys widespread support, it is not without significant flaws. Critics of the law argue that it is unfair to expect schools to monitor and assume responsibility for acts that take place beyond school property. They also point out that implementing the anti-bullying law requires financial and physical resources that the law does not provide.

Also at issue is whether it is fair for educators who are unable to comply with the stringent guidelines to lose their teaching licenses based solely on poor evaluations related to bullying. Yet another fear is that the new law will only aid in allowing children to label one another as bullies over minor incidents instead of teaching them how to effectively resolve differences.

The goal of protecting children from undue harm should be shared by all, but we must weigh the perceived benefit of the new anti-bullying law against its potential cost to our children and educators. Only time will tell how this law will affect both.