Gottheimer Releases North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force Report to Strengthen NJ’s Anti-Bullying Laws and Protect Students

 

Report provides new recommendations for schools, state, and federal policymakers

Fighting to combat cyberbullying, improve bullying investigations, expand training for staff, incorporate mental health services into schools

Ending the “bullying bureaucracy” that disincentivizes reporting or makes reporting bullying incidents difficult

NORTH JERSEY — Today, Thursday, September 10, 2020, at the start of the new academic year, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) and the North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force announced a new report of recommendations for schools, teachers, administrators, and for state and federal policymakers to improve anti-bullying policies in New Jersey and nationwide — from kindergarten through the college level. View the North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force Report here.

The Task Force, created by Gottheimer in January 2020, is chaired by Jane Clementi, Co-Founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Ridgewood resident, and mother of late Rutgers student and cyberbullying victim Tyler Clementi.

The North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force’s report includes key recommendations to address bullying by:

  • Redefining the New Jersey definition of bullying;
  • Improving investigations into bullying incidents;
  • Improving and expanding training for teachers and staff;
  • Incorporating mental health services into the school setting; and
  • Addressing cyberbullying earlier and beyond school settings.

“As the school year starts amidst this crisis — whether that’s remote or in the classroom –– the recommendations in our new report will be crucial for helping schools and policymakers improve anti-bullying policies — at both the state and national level,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Too many children and students are bullied at school and online. Too many are harmed, whether it be their academic performance, or physical and psychological harm. And for far too many, may not see a solution. This report is a critical step in improving our nation’s and New Jersey’s anti-bullying policies, and to continue combating these issues at every angle to help keep our kids safe.”

“I am most grateful to Congressman Gottheimer for bringing attention to the harms and issues of bullying and especially for taking action by calling together this Task Force. It has been a total privilege to serve as chairperson with such an amazing group of caring, knowledgeable and accomplished individuals who joined me on the Anti-Bullying Task Force,” said Jane Clementi, Co-Founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation and Chair of the North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force. “I learned so much from the Taskforce members as they shared their experiences and often hard learned wisdom, to help improve school environments so every student will feel safe in their schools and classrooms, allowing students to be able to grow, thrive and focus on what is essential to the education process…learning.”

This report’s findings are a product of months of work, meeting, and coordination by the Task Force, which included speaking with experts, practitioners and teachers, reviewing academic studies and findings, and digging into New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, New Jersey’s Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying laws, school bullying policies, and federal anti-bullying laws.

The Task Force is hopeful that adopting some or all of these recommendations will help reduce bullying incidents throughout New Jersey and the country.

More than one in five children in the U.S. will be bullied either at school or online. Seventy percent of students say they have witnessed bullying in their schools. Only about 20 to 30 percent of students who are bullied actually notify adults about their experiences.

Members of the North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force: 

  • Jane Clementi, Chair, Co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation
  • Dr. Sarah Amador, licensed clinical psychologist at the Psychological Associates of North Jersey
  • Becky Carlson, Executive Director of the Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton.
  • Alisha DeLorenzo, Interim Deputy Director of Garden State Equality in Trenton
  • Aidan Holt, Junior at Ridgewood High School.
  • Tammi Kaminski, parent and former PTO President at BF Gibbs Elementary School in New Milford.
  • Carrie Leonard, Dean of Students at Ryerson Middle School in Ringwood
  • Joe Licata, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Lower Bergen County in Lodi.
  • Carla Mancuso, Special Education Teacher and Reading Specialist at High Point High School in Wantage.
  • Dr. Vivek Singh, Associate Professor at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University
  • Donna West, teacher at Nellie K. Parker Elementary School in Hackensack
  • Dan Young, Vernon Township Police Chief

View the North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force Report here.

Watch today’s virtual event here.

Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

I want to thank the Anti-Bullying Task Force Members and introduce them:

First, we have Task Force Chair Jane Clementi, the co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Jane is a national expert and a truly incredible leader in this fight against discrimination and bullying. Her late son Tyler, a Rutgers student at the time, was a target of vicious cyberbullying, and she’s taken her efforts to help stop this from ever happening again to the national stage. New Jersey born and raised, she raised her three sons, and she is a passionate advocate for children and young adults throughout all the work she does. I am proud and immensely thankful to have her at the head of this Task Force, as she led the group throughout this spring and summer, meeting eight different times and coordinating constantly with our team to put this report together. Jane, thank you for all of your leadership.

Dr. Sarah Amador, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Psychological Associates of North Jersey, in Hackettstown. She works with children and adolescents, and leads groups that focus on areas like bullying, anger management, and social skills. She’s also a certified school psychologist and provides school consultation services and parent education and training.

Aidan Holt, a Junior at Ridgewood High School. Aidan founded Fresh Start, a lunch group that focuses on student inclusion. Members go around the cafeteria looking for students sitting by themselves, asking them if they want to sit with the group. They’re dedicated to including others and ensuring that students don’t feel left out. Teachers at the school will also recommend students who they believe could use a friend and will ask members of Fresh Start to reach out.

Tammi Kaminski, a parent and former PTO President at BF Gibbs Elementary School in New Milford. She’s a K-5 substitute teacher in New Milford, the team manager for her daughter’s rec soccer team, former Girl Scout Troop Leader, and she serves as the grants coordinator at the New Milford Municipal Alliance Against Drugs and Alcohol. She’s seen how the issue of bullying can affect her own family, so she has focused her personal involvement on making improvements to the policies in place.

Joe Licata, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Lower Bergen County in Lodi. The Boys and Girls Club provides a safe place for children to learn and grow, and helps youth establish on-going relationships with caring adult professionals. This is accomplished by providing the members with life-enhancing programs and character development experiences in character and leadership development, education and career development, and important health and life skills. I was with Joe recently distributing meals to local students and families, and I’ve seen first hand, on many occasions, all the good works they do.

Carla Mancuso, a Special Education Teacher and Reading Specialist at High Point High School in Wantage. She provides classroom support to all freshmen to learn which students are reading below the appropriate grade level, she serves as a member of the New Jersey Education Association’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee, and she’s a member of the Sussex County Education Association.

Dr. Vivek Singh, an Associate Professor at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. Dr. Singh is studying cyberbullying detection using text and social network analysis. His project aims to define new approaches for automatic detection of cyberbullying by integrating research in social and computer sciences. The results of the research hope to employ social intervention mechanisms to help prevent cyberbullying incidents in the future.

And Vernon Township Police Chief Dan Young, who will be joining us a little later during today’s event. Chief Young has involved the Department in numerous community outreach projects, including the local trunk or treat, scarecrow contest, Cram the Cruiser, Ice Cream with a Cop, autism awareness, involvement in the healthy kids running program, and leading seminars with parents and children in the community. He also expanded the Department’s Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD) program and the Junior Police Program.

I’d also like to acknowledge the other task force members: Donna West, a teacher at Nellie K. Parker School Teacher in Hackensack; Carrie Leonard, the Dean of Students at Ryerson Middle School in Ringwood; Alisha DeLorenzo, the Interim Deputy Director of Garden State Equality in Trenton; and Becky Carlson, the Executive Director of the Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton.

They’ve all played a vital role in bringing this report to fruition.

We’re here today — at the start of the school year — to release this new North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force report — drafted through a collaborative effort by all of the Task Force members — and to announce a new set of recommendations to improve and strengthen our anti-bullying policies here in Jersey and across the nation.

As the school year starts amidst this crisis — whether that’s remote or in the classroom –– the recommendations in our new report will be crucial for helping schools and policymakers improve anti-bullying policies — at both the state and national level.

Remote online learning and hybrid classes are going to be the norm for many, and, unfortunately, if we don’t take the right action, cyber-bullying could become more prevalent than ever — with students’ only social interaction with each other taking place online and through apps.

As our kids become more isolated as a result of the pandemic, we must ensure there are proper resources to help care for their mental health, facilitate social interaction, and combat bullying at every angle.

Eight months ago, I was honored to stand with Jane Clementi and others at the Ridgewood YMCA to announce this task force and I’m so proud to see this report come to fruition.

A key part of my Anti-Bullying Action Plan that I announced then was to work with Jane to create this task force — comprised of a cross-section of community stakeholders, including parents, teachers, students, administrators, child advocates, and experts.

We know that bullying is impacting students earlier, more often, and in new ways. But, of course, bullying isn’t new. This happened when we were all kids — then, it was notes in school, rumors, or maybe gossip over the phone, and, for some, in person and face-to-face.

Today, in 2020, we have social media, new apps trending — between TikTok, Instagram, as well as Snapchat and Facebook — and texting and other messaging apps.

I have elementary and middle school age kids — I’ve heard about the issues.

Any child can be a target, whether it’s about the way you look, your race, gender identity, religion, sexual identity, disability, or just because another kid doesn’t like you.

More than one in five children in America will be bullied either at school or online — that’s more than twenty percent of all our nation’s children — and seventy percent of students say they’ve witnessed bullying in their schools.

We know that bullying contributes to decreased academic achievement, including high dropout rates, poorer academic performance, and increased absenteeism, as well as physical and psychological issues, from sleeping difficulties, to increased anxiety, to weakened self-esteem, to depression.

During a recent school year, among middle and high school students — ages 12 to 18 years — who reported being bullied at school. They were made fun of, called names, the subject of rumors, pushed, shoved, tripped, spit on, and excluded from activities on purpose. Fifteen percent of these students were bullied online or by text, and a third were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year.

Most children who are bullied don’t feel comfortable speaking up. Only about 20 to 30 percent of students who are bullied actually notify adults about what they’ve experienced.

Bullying is personal for many of our Task Force members here today.

In the worst cases of bullying, some feel like there’s no escape, and they turn to suicide, as was the case so tragically with Jane’s son Tyler. Tyler was a bright young man, a student at Rutgers, who was tragically cyberbullied and targeted for who he was.

Jane’s guidance on anti-bullying policies has been invaluable and I want to thank her for her continued advocacy and courage.

Every Task Force member has spent countless hours speaking with experts, practitioners and teachers; reviewing academic studies and findings; and digging into New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights; New Jersey’s Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying laws; school anti-bullying policies; and federal anti-bullying laws. This has been an evidence-based approach.

New Jersey has good laws on our state books to combat these issues, but there are clearly still improvements to be made, and that’s what we learned through this process.

This Task Force has worked together to study issues on the local level, found loopholes that need to be closed — to end the bullying bureaucracy that often gets in the way or disincentivizes reporting, or misses reporting, or makes it difficult to report for parents, teachers, or others — and identified ways to make New Jersey and federal anti-bullying laws even better.

Among other findings, the Task Force concluded that the New Jersey State bullying law excludes many types of bullying and includes other behaviors and some incidents that do not necessarily constitute bullying.

Additionally, our Task Force found that the efficiency and effectiveness of investigations into bullying incidents could be improved — that’s what I’m talking about with the bullying bureaucracy — and that teachers, staff, parents, and community members could be better equipped to address bullying situations and achieve more positive outcomes.

We also identified missed opportunities to prevent future bullying incidents and improve the well-being of both the targets and the aggressors.

Lastly, the Task Force found that the growing number of cyberbullying incidents are not being prevented or resolved as successfully as they could be — which has always been an important issue we’ve needed to address better, but it’s especially pertinent right now, when our kids are learning virtually and they’re open to more online social interaction and cyberbullying.

The Task Force’s recommendations to schools and State and Federal policymakers fall into five major categories:

  • Redefining the New Jersey definition of bullying;
  • Improving investigations into bullying incidents;
  • Improving and expanding training for teachers and staff;
  • Incorporating mental health services into the school setting; and
  • Addressing cyberbullying earlier and beyond school settings.

Our report concludes that there are a number of ways that schools, states, and the federal government could improve in how they handle bullying incidents.

By adopting some or all of these recommendations, we’re hopeful that they will help reduce bullying incidents throughout both New Jersey and our great nation.

On behalf of all the families here in the Fifth District, I’m incredibly grateful for the tireless work of this Task Force and their commitment to addressing the many issues we have in front of us.

More work lies ahead, especially to confront new challenges posed by living in a COVID-19 and digital world, but the foundation has now been set and I hope policymakers on all levels will take action.

Thank you to everyone for joining us today as we release this new report.

Too many children and students are bullied at school and online. Too many are harmed, whether it be their academic performance, or physical and psychological harm. And for far too many, may not see a solution.

Our job as parents, as educators, and policymakers is to do whatever we can to help our kids. and that’s what this is all about. We need to get those incidents down, so one in five aren’t bullied and to make sure the thirty percent who don’t say anything start saying something, and really eliminating the bullying bureaucracy that’s preventing reporting or having these reports held up, causing action to not be taken quickly.

During what will be an unconventional school year for many, in the midst of a global health and economic crisis, we need to double down on our efforts to protect every student and ensure that they have the protection and resources necessary to achieve their own potential.

This report is a critical step in improving our nation’s and New Jersey’s anti-bullying policies, and to continue combating these issues at every angle to help keep our kids safe.

To our parents, teachers, faculty, students, administrators, and child advocates, thank you for all that you do in our great state, here in the greatest country in the world.

Working together to help our children, I know our best days will always be ahead of us.

God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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