Anti-bullying law takes effect in New Jersey schools

September 6, 2011 3:17:30 PM PDT
It's the first day of school in New Jersey, and the first time the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights has been put to the test.

The law was signed last January, a few months after Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself after authorities say his roommate posted video of a sexual encounter between Clementi and a man online.

"It could be life or death, someone committing suicide and being in a life or death situation," Jennifer Ehrentraut-Segro, Clementi's Cousin, said.

The law had overwhelming support when it passed, but its supporters gathered outside Fort Lee High School today to ask why, eight months later, the New Jersey Department of Education has yet to issue guidelines to help districts follow it.

"As of today, the first day of school, the Department of Education receives an F in implementing the new law," Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality said.

The state says it sent out guidelines to schools in April. Many districts are trying to comply, but the law, considered the toughest in the nation, is very involved. Every school in New Jersey must have an anti-bullying specialist, assemble a safety team and investigate bullying complaints within one day.

Posters all over Fort Lee High School remind students that it is a bully-free zone. It's all part of an effort to make students feel more connected to each other.

"We're in the business of teaching students academically, but also behavioral issues," Principal Priscilla Church said.

Some administrators have complained that the requirements are too onerous for districts already facing budget cuts. That's not the case here in Fort Lee, where seniors are paired with freshman in a new mentoring program.

"When I was a freshman I didn't have a senior who I could go talk to, so it's nice that they have it," senior Nicole Farber said.

As part of the new law, schools will receive grades from the Department of Education based on how well they're addressing bullying in class and online.