Jersey bullying law to be amended

Gov. Christie visited the Rescue Mission in Trenton to outline a treatment initiative last week. (David Swanson/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

A bipartisan agreement has been reached to fix the state’s anti-bullying law — considered the toughest in the nation — in the wake of complaints that is too onerous on school districts.

Republican Gov. Christie announced support Tuesday for an amended bill backed by both parties that will be fast-tracked through the Legislature. It will add $1 million into the Bullying Prevention Fund to help school districts meet the law’s requirements, and it will create a task force to assist with the implementation of the law.

“We know that students have the best opportunity to learn and achieve when they’re in an environment that is safe and free from bullying and intimidation,” Christie said at a news conference flanked by the state’s most prominent gay activist and legislators from each party.

The announcement comes as a high-profile bullying-related trial continues in New Brunswick. Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman, committed suicide in 2010 after allegedly being observed in a live webstream during an intimate encounter with a man in his dorm room. His then-roomate, Dharun Ravi, is on trial on bias intimidation and other charges.

The Anti—Bullying Bill of Rights, which was signed in the wake of Clementi’s death, requires schools to adopt anti-bullying policies, train teachers to deal with bullying and designate staff members to investigate student complaints of bullying — even those that don’t occur on school grounds.

Episodes of bullying must also be reported to the state Department of Education.

In January, a state panel, the Council on Local Mandates, responding to complaints from school districts, said the law amounted to an unfunded mandate on school districts due to the cost of the staffing and training requirements. Christie had 60 days to offer a fix, or the law would be nullified.

Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality who has sparred with Christie over gay marriage, had only praise for the governor at Tuesday’s Statehouse news conference.

He said most children who identify as gay report being bullied, and those who are bullied are far more likely to commit suicide.

“In the rough and tumble of politics it’s nice to see the governor and our Democratic leaders really put kids first,” Goldstein said.