When negative behaviors or habits seem as perennial as the grass, there is often a misguided tendency on all of our parts to become immune to their existence or to the impact these behaviors have on others. We become, at the very least, complacent about the consequences. Yet, in the last several years in particular, an awareness of the phenomenon of bullying has been heightened by the prevalence of technology making cyber bullying so common and dangerous. Additionally, an abundance of well-publicized tragedies involving young people taking their lives as a result of bullying, has resulted in direct, proactive and hard-hitting steps, including legal consequences, if these behaviors are practiced.
In 2010, a Rutgers University freshman killed himself after his roommate broadcast live images of the student engaging in sexual acts with another man on the internet. The devastating event caused a statewide meditation on the dangerous effects of bullying and how the state could thwart future bullying to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again.
In response, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act on January 5, 2011, and it began to take effect at the beginning of the 2011 school year. The new law provided a clear and specific definition of bullying as any harmful act towards another student or any infringement on a student’s rights at school.
Every public school in New Jersey must now report all cases of bullying to the state within two days of the incident. The law further required that every school have an anti-bullying specialist and a school safety team in order to ensure that an expert will properly deal with any incident.
Rhode Island has also adapted some of its anti-bullying measures recently. The Safe School Act, which stipulates Rhode Island’s bullying policy, demands that the prevention of bullying shall be part of each public school’s district strategic plan and school safety plan. Behavior cannot be changed overnight, even by legislative means. But in due time, a commitment to innovative prevention programs can change hostile environments.
Rhode Island lawyers also contribute immensely to ensuring safe, healthy, and just environments for all children and adults!