As of today, NJ will have some of the most stringent anti-bullying laws put into play in our school systems.
Why are they good?
(1) Punctuates the seriousness
(2) Mandates reporting
(3) Mandates training
(4) Mobilizes people to get involved and make them accountable
(5) It acknowledges bullying on/off school grounds affects children’s learning in school.
Why are they tricky?
(1) Money is an issue in schools: We know that many schools have some money budgeted towards anti-bullying programs. But more is needed. That means schools must get creative. Just as everything can’t be placed in the parents laps, the schools can’t shoulder the whole burden. We need a parent- school- community partnership that creates a movement. For example, I’m being brought in to the Morris County School system to speak about bullying on November 17th at the hosting school Randolph middle school, not by the schools, but an outside org, Jewish Family Services of Metrowest. This is not just a school problem, it’s everybody’s problem. Schools will need help. My hope is that more outside organizations and volunteers will step in.
(2) Time: It takes time to train everyone and get them up to speed- time to learn how to balance a very large work load and how to handle cases. It won’t be perfect. At times it may seem extremely overwhelming. It wasn’t fair when parents were solely in charge, it may not be fair that schools are solely accountable either. Shared problems need joint solutions and shared burden of time and resources. These are our children we’re talking about.
(3) Buy in: Laws don’t change people’s behavior in and of themselves. They are the starting point. What we need is a collective vision and the creation of a school climate based on character, strong leadership, and a commitment to a safe and healthy learning environment for everyone. This isn’t easy. It isn’t quick. But it’s necessary for change.
I’m in discussions with some schools about doing some specific work with their student leaders. Leaving everything to the adults is a missed opportunity. Has to be ground up as well as top down– everyone working together.
How will kids react?
If there is a varied approach that is applicable and relevant to them- not outdated, not using cliché PSAs but rather provide real world strategies, for problems that they really encounter, I think it can be positive. We can’t think that having one assembly, a list of rules called out by the teacher on the first day, a school slogan, a bunch of t-shirts, or a bumper sticker is going to change anything. This needs to be ongoing, with a dialogue between all parties- parents, teachers, students, various leaders in the school, to say what’s working and what’s not and what we can do next.
Haven’t we already been doing this in the schools?
While bullying has always been in existence, the landscape of bullying has changed. It’s not often the overt, physical bully on the school yard. It’s covert. It’s gossip and ostracizing. It’s cyberbullying. Saying “be nice” is not enough. Outdated rules and methods won’t necessarily apply to bullying as it is today.
I think our children deserve our full devotion to finding ways to help them cope with bullying, aggression, and intimidation. There is foundational work that needs to be done—laws may dissuade some but may be meaningless to others. The key is in what we do with those laws to create a safe and respectful learning environment for our children, not in the laws themselves.
What would YOU like to see happen?