Schools are one of the essentials that make up a community because they should be safe havens for our children.  In the classroom, students discover the fundamentals of the world, grow as individuals and develop friendships.  A parent’s greatest hope is for their child to be accepted by others and thrive in each of those areas.  However, bullying can tarnish this dream and devastate a child’s school age experiences.

Statistics from the Journal of American Medical Association show nearly 30 percent of all youth aged 11 to 15 has been a victim or perpetrator of bullying.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in four children who bully have a criminal record by the age of 30.  These are sobering statistics for parents and educators.

In a day and age where school violence and killings are an unfortunate reality that seem too common, parents and educators must take extra precautions to ensure that situations that involve bullying do not escalate to dangerous levels.  The shots infamously fired at Columbine High School have forever changed the way schools, parents and citizens think about and approach school violence.  As a reminder of this horrific tragedy, the third week of April is designated as Bullying Prevention week to highlight programs that prevent harassment, intimidation, bullying and ultimately violence among students.

The tragic consequences of bullying recently came to light when a group of teenagers excessively harassed a 15 year old girl to the point that she committed suicide.  According to news reports, she endured weeks of torment from bullies in school and on her social media page before ending her life.  This tragedy highlights the vital need for schools to implement programs that will educate students about the dangers of bullying and also provide outreach to victims before it becomes too late.

In order to address the current bullying incidents that have moved beyond the classroom to the Internet, I have sponsored legislation that would prohibit posting of certain personal information online or misrepresentation of identity on the Internet for the purpose of harassment of a minor child.  Hopefully this measure along with anti-bullying initiatives will help to prevent future acts of harassment from occurring among our children.

We are fortunate to live in a state that understands the importance of addressing bullying.  New Jersey school districts are required to adopt policies that directly prohibit bullying, harassment and intimidation on school property, at school-sponsored functions or on school buses. In addition, the policy must include a definition of bullying behavior, consequences for engaging in such behavior, a procedure for investigation of reports of such behavior, a statement prohibiting retaliation or reprisal against persons reporting bullying behavior and consequences for making a false accusation.   It also requires school employees, students or volunteers to report any incidents of bullying, intimidation and harassment to appropriate school officials.

Under these state’s guidelines, schools can more effectively address this harmful behavior.  We must be persistent in enforcing these policies; however, we must also take them a step further by mandating bullying prevention programs in schools to educate children.

I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to support efforts to initiate educational programs in schools targeted at prohibiting cases of harassment and violence from occurring among students.  In addition, parents can help by monitoring their child’s behavior and online activities.  If we work together to utilize these techniques to prevent bullying behaviors it can help to save a child’s life.  It is our duty to work as a community to protect our children and to ensure that schools are a safe haven for them to thrive and grow into adults and not a place that they associate with fear and aggression.

 

Mary Pat Angelini

11th District Assemblywoman