New Jersey Lays Down the Law on Bullies: Does It Go Too Far?

Bullies have always been as much a part of going to school as reading, writing and 'rithmetic, but many of today's pint-sized tyrants have gone beyond a little lighthearted teasing and cutting in line to plain and simple cruelty -- in some especially horrific cases, victims of "extreme bullying" have been forced to drink toilet water or even worse, harassed until they committed suicide such as in the case of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. To combat kid aggressors, New Jersey has implemented an Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, which takes effect tomorrow.

According to the New York Times, this new no-nonsense state law demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies for the upcoming school year, including appointing an antibullying coordinator and safety team (made up of teachers, staff members and parents) at each school to review complaints. But different districts are implementing the law in varying degrees -- some will educate students (as young as kindergarteners) on the difference between telling and tattling, and how it’s their responsibility to report bullying when they see it; in other towns, bullies can actually be reported to the police by their classmates through anonymous tips to Crimestoppers.

As modern-day bullying spreads from the locker room or lunch line to Facebook and YouTube, supporters of the law say schools need to step in to police conflicts among students, down to the hurtful rumors and gossip that make it onto the far-reaching internet. "It's not the traditional bullying: the big kid in the schoolyard saying, 'You're going to do what I say,'" Richard Bergacs, an assistant principal at North Hunterdon High, tells the Times.

"While it may start on the playground or in the classroom, we now know that bullying is amplified by the prevalence of social media and mobile platforms," says Linda Burch, chief education and strategy officer for Common Sense Media, a nonpartisan group which focuses on the impact of media on kids and families. "We believe the most effective way to address bullying is through proactive, preventative education."

But will kids and parents rely too much on their school district (many of which are already tapped out) to field every accusation of harassment or intimidation -- many of which are just the typical, non-life-threatening confrontations that come along with growing up? "I think this has gone well overboard," Richard G. Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, says in the Times piece. "Now we have to police the community 24 hours a day. Where are the people and the resources to do this?"

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