State Legislators Discuss Anti-Bullying Laws for Affirmative Action Day 2012

Photo: Mike Peters

New Jersey State Senator Linda R. Greenstein (left) and State Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle discuss their anti-bullying legislation at the Affirmative Action Day symposium.

Focusing on new legislation that addresses the issue of bullying in schools and in the workplace, a symposium with state legislators was the main event for Montclair State University’s Affirmative Action Day, held on March 20 in University Hall. Titled “Anti-Bullying and the Law: From the Classroom to the Office,” the event was sponsored by Montclair State’s President’s Commission on Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity.

Two New Jersey lawmakers who have sponsored anti-bullying legislation, Senator Linda R. Greenstein, (D), 14th District, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, (D), 37th District, discussed their bills and the issue of bullying, and answered questions from the audience of more than 200 students, faculty, staff, and guests.

The primary sponsor of the “Healthy Workplace Act,” which has yet to be signed into law, Greenstein spoke about the bill and the underlying reasons for it. Noting that among employees, 40 percent or more have experienced bullying at work, she said “You would not believe the response I’ve had from the public. So many people feel that they’ve had problems with [workplace bullying] and would like to see legislation on it.”

Greenstein explained that the laws currently in place offered recourse for certain groups of bullying victims but did not cover everyone. For example, there are laws that protect those who are harassed or discriminated against based on age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., but Greenstein said that currently, if a person doesn’t fit into one of the “covered” categories they can’t bring a case. “The type of bill that I have in mind is one where anybody can sue,” she said.

Huttle’s legislation addresses bullying in schools rather than in the workplace. The “Anti-bullying Bill of Rights Act” prohibits harassment, intimidation, or bullying at public schools and incorporates anti-bullying education into the curriculum. Called “The nation’s toughest law against bullying and harassment in the schools” by The New York Times, the legislation went into effect in September of 2011.

According to Huttle, one of the reasons this anti-bullying law is the most comprehensive is because it also addresses bullying that takes place after school hours and off of school grounds, a need brought on by the rise in social media and “cyber-bullying.”

“Years ago [bullying] happened in the schoolyard, you went home, and you felt safe,” Huttle explained. “What happens today with social media—with Twitter and Facebook—is when you do go home, there’s no safety net there, because in an instant, it’s on Facebook.”

The law also requires school administrators to investigate, remedy, and report all instances of bullying, and develop comprehensive anti-bullying policies and programs. The goal, according to Huttle, is to change the culture at schools and to teach students “not to be bystanders, but to be ‘upstanders’—that it is cool to be able to stand up to [bullying].”

A lively question and answer session followed the presentations. The legislators responded to questions from a wide cross section of audience members including teachers looking for insight into how to apply the law, lawyers with questions about representing clients, parents with school-age children, and students with questions about details of the legislation.

See photos from the event at Flickr.com.

Read a Q&A with Professor Robert McCormick, director of the Center for Child Advocacy, discussing bullying and the Ravi-Clementi case.