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Guest Column: Bullying, The New Law and Why it Matters

Board of Education President Barbara Garrity talks about the ways Holmdel schools will respond to New Jersey's new anti-bullying legislation.

Each new school year the laws under which we operate change.  The new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act brings significant changes in how schools respond to bullying, both preventively and in dealing with consequences. 

Why is Bullying being Taken so Seriously?

The immediate trigger for the legislation was last year’s suicide of a Rutgers student after he was harassed on the basis of his sexual orientation.  However, there are also broad statistics about the harm resulting from bullying:

  • Fifty-five % of 8 – 11 year-olds and 68% of 12 – 15 year-olds say bullying is a serious problem for them. (Kaiser Family Foundation/Nickelodeon)
  • Nearly 30% of youth aged 11 – 15 have been targets or perpetrators of bullying.  (Journal of the American Medical Association)
  • By age 30, 25% of persons identified as bullies in childhood have a criminal record. 
  • 85% of gay and lesbian students report verbal harassment; 43% report physical harassment. (GLSEN National School Climate survey)
  • Nearly 50% of bias crime offenders are 11 – 20 years old; 16% of reported bias incidents take place in schools.  (NJ Bias Incident Offense Report)

These are sad facts, and we have a legal, and moral, obligation to work for a better school climate, and develop programs to reduce the incidence of bullying.

 What is Bullying?

Bullying is:

  • Actions repeated over time which harm, intimidate or humiliate another person.

Usually there is an imbalance of power (e.g., strength, popularity) that makes it hard for the bullied child to defend him/herself.

  • Can be physical, verbal, relational (e.g., exclusion, isolation), in-person or electronic (e.g., cyber-bullying), direct (e.g., hitting, texts sent to the child) or indirect (e.g., rumors spread, others encouraged to hurt the child). 
  • Can occur on or off school grounds.

Related Facts about Bullying:

  • Frequent bullying (weekly or more) causes serious harm, including depression, school avoidance, or social anxiety, often lasting into adulthood.  Children who bully are at higher risk of future involvement in the criminal justice system and of continued bullying as adults (e.g., child or spousal abuse).
  • Peers are typically involved as bystanders.  The behavior and attitudes of bystanders can inhibit or facilitate bullying.  When peers support the targeted child or express disapproval of the bullying child, bullying usually subsides.
  • Frequent bullying (weekly or more) is generally perpetrated by 10-15% of students.  Targeted children constitute about 10-15% of students.  About 5% of students are both perpetrators and targets of bullying; these children are generally more troubled and require more attention and intervention.
  • Children who bully don’t necessarily lack self-esteem, empathy or general social skills.  Rather they tend to have lower competence in managing emotions, empathy, evaluating consequences, and problem solving.  Many children who bully are popular among peers and with adults.
  • The most important factor determining the occurrence of bullying in a school is school climate, defined as the subjective perception of the school by students and school personnel.  School climate is primarily influenced by school norms, disciplinary practices, and the behavior of adults in the school.

What’s Next?

I am proud to say our district has a good foundation on which to build in responding to the new anti-bullying law.  Character education, including anti-bullying programs, is already in place in our younger grades.  It will be enhanced using the 10 minutes per day added this year.  HHS set a goal of improving school climate as part of the accreditation for growth process several years ago.  Even so, we will bring increased, specific focus to our anti-bullying efforts. 

The law requires amending our policies and regulations; specialized anti-bullying training for staff; appointing a district anti-bullying coordinator, and school anti-bullying specialists and school safety teams (which include parents); and establishing a bullying prevention program, and on-going anti-bullying strategies and instruction to be imbedded in our children’s learning program.  It is now mandatory to report bullying incidents, and the procedure for reporting, investigating and responding, as well as the consequences, are much more highly regulated than before.  Districts must keep statistics on bullying incidents, periodically share them with the Board and public, and use them to fine-tune anti-bullying programs.  The state will grade our efforts annually, which must be reported on the School Report Card and website. 

We’ve made many of these changes and are working on the rest.  Information about the district anti-bullying coordinator, school anti-bullying specialists and school safety teams is available on the district website.  New this year will be a statewide “Week of Respect” during the first week of October.  By now you should have heard more details about activities planned for your child’s school.

How Can You Help?

Ending bullying will take community support.  Parents, please read carefully the material from your child’s school so you can reinforce the message at home.  Please don’t hesitate to report bullying incidents involving your child, whether as a perpetrator or a target.  Both need support and intervention.  Consider volunteering for the School Safety Team.  Support the Week of Respect and other activities that build positive school climate.

All of us -- school personnel, parents, and community members -- play a critical role in modeling respectful, polite and/or professional behavior toward each other.  To children, we are role models in positions of authority.  We must avoid denigrating, intimidating through fear, or overemphasizing power and control in our dealings with each other.  In short, we need to be the change we want to see.

Children who fear being bullied can’t learn to their full potential.  Children who bully need our help to learn better ways of interacting with their peers.  We all want what is best for our children.  Bringing an end to bullying is something we can all support, and help make a reality. 

On behalf of my Board colleagues,

Barbara Garrity

Board President

Note:  In writing this column I have borrowed extensively from the NJ Office of Bias Crime and Community Relations’ pamphlet entitled, “Preventing Bias-Based Bullying,” and the NJ Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention’s Expert Advisory Group’s resource material entitled “Bullying Prevention Guidance for School Stakeholders,” available on their website( www.njbullying.org).    

Mike Weakley October 04, 2011 at 03:35 AM
October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. I have developed a bully prevention show for elementary schools. Highlights of the show can be seen here... http://youtu.be/2qAvD01RD9E http://www.StopBullyingShow.com
Cory October 04, 2011 at 11:31 AM
Can the BOE elaborate on the consequences for bullies?
Debbie Fry October 04, 2011 at 05:53 PM
I am so glad that this is getting the attention it needs. I was picked on in school for being overweight and being large breasted. I was strong enough to look the other way and not let it get to me too much. That was over 30 years ago. I still recall how I felt though. Now, as of a week ago, my teenage son, who was a victim of bullying and got taunted about his sexuality and such, got in a fight where he was set up to be somewhere and then jumped by 3 guys at once. He had tried to avoid fighting them prior to this and went to authorities at his school. Apparently, nothing was effective to get them to heed the warnings. Now, since my son had a pocket knife and defended himself, he is in trouble and the others who attacked him are getting off with no repurcussions for their bullying behaviors. This should not be. When will it end?
Barbara Garrity October 04, 2011 at 06:57 PM
In response to Cory's request for more information about the consequences for bullying. There is no simple answer to that question because the consequences depend on the nature of the bullying, past history, the characteristics of the perpetrator, etc. The range of appropriate consequences can include efforts to support the targeted child and improve school climate, intervention with the perpetrator, and punitive consequences including the perpetrator’s suspension and removal to an alternate placement. The relevant policies are 5145 and 5131. Both are long, and can be read in full at the district website www.holmdelschools.org. Just click on the “BOE” under the district logo, and select “policies” from the drop-down menu. Barbara Garrity bgarrity@holmdelschools.org
Cory October 06, 2011 at 11:19 AM
Thank you, Ms. Garrity for directing me to the school website and the details around this new anti-bullying legislation. I hope parents/guardians will find their way to this site so they can better understand bullying and know how it is defined. Parents need to be more involved in teaching their children to have empathy and perhaps modeling that behavior themselves. We all know where bullying starts!

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