N.J. Panel Targets School Bullies By Granting More Power To Educators

bullyingThe girl’s torment began in fourth grade, and for four years it didn’t stop. There were threats at school and phone calls to her home. The girl was even harassed on the school basketball court by a handful of her teammates rounded up by the group’s ring leader. Stacy Ashmon said her bullied daughter became terrified to walk the three blocks home from her Somerset County school and many days didn’t want to go at all. Deciding she’d had enough, the North Plainfield mother went to the school principal, the superintendent and then to the police. But she got nowhere — the harassment didn’t stop until the primary bully moved to another district.

“They just dismissed it as ‘kids being kids,’ and that troubled me a lot,” Ashmon said.

In releasing recommendations today to prevent bullying in New Jersey schools, the chairman of a state panel that studied the issue said one in 10 kids is “having the worst day of their lives every day that they go to school because of harsh treatment by peers.”

The 22 recommendations in the report include giving school officials the power to police off-campus bullying, such as threats made by cell phone text messages, and making the study of civil rights, human rights and diversity, as well as bullying, part of the school curriculum.

The commission also recommended creating three regional centers to provide resources and train officials in each school. The centers’ cost would be roughly $1 million a year.

“The most important thing is for the folks that run schools, administrators and also teachers, to really prioritize this issue to the extent that it deserves — it’s really the culture and climate of schools,” said Stuart Green, chair of the 14-member New Jersey Commission on Bullying in Schools.

Green said bullying impairs students’ academic performance and is a major factor in school dropouts, weapon carrying and gang activity.

The report cited it as a major factor in youth suicide, especially affecting those in the lesbian, gay and transgendered community.

Bullying is often associated with an imbalance of power between children, Green said. It often occurs when a student is in the minority, whether that be with regard to athletic ability, socioeconomic class, race or religion.

“The populations that are most hurt by bullying … would be children with special health and learning needs, children who are targeted because of appearance that isn’t satisfactory in some way to the majority, including obesity — which ironically is almost a demographic norm in the child populations or getting to be — and LGBT kids,” he said.

The commission heard from nearly 100 parents, school officials and others at three regional hearings during the course of its yearlong study period.

Etzion Neuer, commission member and regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said each of the stories the panel heard were “small tragedies.”

The total cost of implementing the recommendations, many of which need legislative approval, is $1.5 million, according to the commission.

Sharon Rose Powell, a member of the panel, said the cost is minimal when weighed against the benefits of educating parents and teachers about the signs of bullying and methods of addressing it.

Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), who sponsored the legislation creating the commission last year, said she will work with the group to “put the best protections against bullying into law. Star Ledger.

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  1. I’ve heard this from a school principal here – kids will be kids… I wondered, if the victim was her own child/grandchild, would the attitude be the same?

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