Gottheimer Takes the Fight to Bullying, Announces Five-Point Anti-Bullying Action Plan, Launches North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force

Gottheimer walks a tightrope through tangled impeachment terrain.

RIDGEWOOD – Today, Monday, January 13, 2020, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced a Five-Point Anti-Bullying Action Plan to improve data and incident reporting, to increase conversations between schools and parents, to help schools take more proactive steps with the right policies, to find and share the best practices on the local level, and to ensure social media companies are properly combating cyberbullying.

Within his Action Plan, Gottheimer announced a new North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force to be chaired by Jane Clementi, Co-Founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation and mother of late Rutgers student and cyberbullying victim Tyler Clementi.

“One in five children in America will be bullied either at school or online, and of all children who are bullied, most don’t feel comfortable speaking up. In the worst cases, some feel like there’s no escape. That’s why we need new tools, especially when children are at their most vulnerable ages — but also when young adults are still trying to figure out who they are throughout college. With my Five-Point Anti-Bullying Action Plan and with a new North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force, we can attack this issue at every angle,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “I’m proud to announce that Jane Clementi, a nationwide expert and  incredible leader in this fight against discrimination and bullying, will be chairing our Task Force, and helping me select other members. Jane knows all too well the terrible consequences bullying can have on the life of a student. Here in the Garden State, where we have the best schools and educators in the country, we have taken important steps, but there are still improvements to be made and I want to hear from our local experts about what exactly we should fix.”

“I’m happy to always add my voice to this issue of offline and online bullying and to share Tyler’s story,” said Jane Clementi, Co-Founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation. “I want to thank Congressman Gottheimer for leading the charge on this important task force, comprised of parents and professionals to put an end to bullying. Our advocacy is about changing hearts and minds and raising awareness, but we need clear legislation and tools to change behavior.”

Gottheimer’s Five-Point Anti-Bullying Action Plan includes:

1) Creating a new North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force, chaired by Jane Clementi, to include a cross-section of community stakeholders, including parents, teachers, students, administrators, child advocates, and experts. The Task Force will be able to study issues on the local level, find loopholes that need to be filled, and identify ways to make New Jersey and federal anti-bullying laws even stronger.

2) Sharing best practices from around the country by establishing a national-level Anti-Bullying Roundtable, which will be created by the bipartisan Danny’s Law, named after Daniel Fitzpatrick, a 13-year-old from Brooklyn who committed suicide in 2016 because of the bullying he was facing in middle school.

3) Ensuring schools nationwide are taking proactive steps to put anti-bullying policies in place, to publicize those policies to students, faculty, and parents, and to include bullying data in their school assessment reporting. The bipartisan Safe Schools Improvement Act will require states, districts, and schools — as a condition of receiving federal funding — to ensure their codes of conduct specifically prohibit bullying and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion.

4) Helping stop bullying and harassment on college and university campuses, especially towards LGBTQ students. The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, named after late Rutgers student and cyberbullying victim Tyler Clementi, will require colleges and universities receiving federal student aid to enact policies that prohibit the harassment of students by other students, faculty, and staff based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion, as well as explicitly prohibiting cyberbullying. The Tyler Clementi Act will also create a competitive grant program to help institutions invest in initiating, expanding, and improving programs that prevent bullying, that provide counseling to students, and that educate students and faculty on ways to prevent and address harassment.

5) Calling on social media companies to redouble their efforts to protect children from cyberbullying on their platforms. Continued advancement and development of machine learning will give us the opportunity to better identify online bullies and aggressors. Social media platforms must continue developing their technology to stay up-to-date to combat harassment online.

Gottheimer was joined today by Ridgewood Mayor Ramon Hache, Ridgewood YMCA CEO Ernie Lamour, Co-Founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation Jane Clementi, Northern New Jersey Policy Coordinator for G.L.S.E.N. Kathryn Dixon, Director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention Dr. Stuart Green, Anti-Bullying Coordinator at the Bergen County Vocational Technical School Pat Cosgrove, Ridgewood High School Sophomore and member of Fresh Start, a lunch group to support fellow students, Aidan Holt.

Watch today’s announcement HERE.

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

Everyone standing with me here today knows that bullying is happening earlier and more often and in new ways. But, of course, bullying isn’t new. This happened when we were all kids — but, then, it was notes in school, rumors, or maybe over the phone. It may have been harder for some, in person, face-to-face.

But today, in 2020, we have social media, new apps that start trending every year — between TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook — and texting.

Kids can hide behind these apps, post photos, and it can spread like wildfire — all without teachers or parents knowing, hearing, or seeing it.

This can happen at very young ages. I have young kids — I’ve heard about the issues.

So, we need new tools, especially when children are at their most vulnerable ages — but also when young adults are still trying to figure out who they are, like throughout college.

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

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 during that year, 15 percent were bullied online or by text. They were made fun of, called names, the subject of rumors, pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on, and were excluded from activities on purpose. A third of those who were bullied, were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year.

Of all children who are bullied, most 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.

In the worst cases, some feel like there’s no escape, and they turn to suicide, as was the case so tragically with Tyler.

In fact, this past fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the rate of suicide among those aged 10 to 24 increased dramatically — by 56 percent — between 2007 and 2017, making suicide the second leading cause of death for that age group.

We have to fix this, just like we have to fix our lead water and make sure the water our children are drinking in their schools is safe, and just like we need to be protecting our students and teachers from gun violence.

Now, here in the Garden State, where we have the best schools and educators in the country, we have taken certain steps, like with our Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights and our requirement that schools must prevent, report, investigate, and respond to bullying, as well as training teachers, staff, and school board members. I want to thank Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle for her leadership on this issue.

And every other state has passed anti-bullying legislation, too.

But, as those statistics show, and I’ve heard from far too many constituents, it’s simply not enough. These numbers are staggering.. So, there are still big gaps in this fight against bullying, including the need for better data and reporting of incidents, more conversation between schools and parents, schools taking more proactive steps with the right policies, finding the best practices on the local level and sharing those, and ensuring that our social media companies keep up with new tactics to combat cyberbullying.

I’ve heard from many of my constituents – including parents, teachers, and students — asking that we do more. This isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue – this is a mom and dad issue, and it’s high time we did more to solve it.

Today, we are announcing a Five-Point Anti-Bullying Action Plan to take the fight to bullying.

First Point: While many of our schools and states have the right policies in place, none of us have all the answers – and we can always do more. We should be sharing best practices from around the country, hearing from the best and brightest minds, and facilitating more conversations to solve these issues.

That’s why I’m cosponsoring bipartisan legislation — known as Danny’s Law — that will establish a national-level Anti-Bullying Roundtable to study bullying in elementary and secondary schools nationwide and make recommendations for where improvements can be made.

Daniel Fitzpatrick was a 13-year-old boy from Brooklyn who committed suicide in 2016 because of the bullying he was facing in middle school.

That’s something no child and no family should have to go through.

In Danny’s memory, this roundtable will study the best practices to combat bullying, how best to educate school officials to better recognize bullying, and how to help parents address the early warning signs that bullying might be impacting their children.

Second, we know that our schools need to take proactive steps to put anti-bullying policies in place — and publicize those policies to students, faculty, and parents alike. We need to properly incentivize schools and districts to accurately report data to the state and federal government on bullying that may be taking place. Right now, that’s an issue in some of our schools, because they think it will be a black mark on their record. We shouldn’t punish the schools for taking count and taking proactive steps.

Without this data, we won’t know where the problems are and we won’t know what needs to change to help our children.

That’s why I am cosponsoring the Safe Schools Improvement Act — bipartisan legislation to require states, districts, and schools — as a condition of receiving federal funding — to ensure their codes of conduct specifically prohibit bullying and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion.

It will also require states, districts, and schools to include bullying and harassment data in their state-wide needs assessment reporting, just how school districts include their data in their plans to address school safety.

The Third Point of my Anti-Bullying Action Plan is particularly important, as we stand here in Ridgewood today with Jane Clementi, and as we remember her wonderful son Tyler.

Last month would have been Tyler’s 28th birthday.

Tyler’s story reminds us that bullying and harassment do not stop at the walls of our K-12 schools.

In fact, numerous studies have shown that bullying and harassment are widespread on college and university campuses, too. And LGBTQ college students are nearly twice as likely to experience harassment when compared to their non-LGBTQ peers.

Tyler was a bright young man who was tragically cyberbullied and targeted for who he was. No child and no college student should be targeted like that.

That’s why I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act.

In Tyler’s memory, this bill will require colleges and universities receiving federal student aid to enact policies that prohibit the harassment of students by other students, faculty, and staff based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion. And it explicitly prohibits cyberbullying.

The Tyler Clementi Act will also create a competitive grant program to help institutions invest in initiating, expanding, and improving programs that prevent bullying, that provide counseling to students, and that educate students and faculty on ways to prevent and address harassment.

Fourth, today I’m announcing a North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force, which will include a cross-section of community stakeholders, including parents, teachers, students, administrators, child advocates, and experts. I’m proud to announce that Jane Clementi, a nationwide expert and  incredible leader in this fight against discrimination and bullying, will be chairing our Task Force, and helping me select the other members. Jane knows all too well the terrible consequences bullying can have on the life of a student.

We’re blessed here in New Jersey to have great laws on our state books to combat bullying, intimidation, and harassment.

And we have groups across North Jersey that are doing their part to solve these issues, like the Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton that offers workshops on cyberbullying and assemblies on preventing bullying, as well as the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, which takes part in social-emotional learning meetings to help develop students’ social and emotional competencies. We also have the partnership between the Tyler Clementi Foundation and the Ridgewood YMCA, lunch groups at Ridgewood High School that provide a safe space for students who have been bullied to eat and talk together, G.L.S.E.N. – which is working to end discrimination and bullying based on sexual orientation and to boost inclusion and awareness in K-12 schools, and many others doing important work throughout the Fifth District.

But, of course, there are still improvements to be made and I want to hear from our local experts about what exactly we should fix.

Our Task Force can take a look at the state’s definitions of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and intimidation, to ensure that no incidents and no child is slipping through the cracks because of how they are classified.

It is critically important that we examine how schools report incidents and how well they are implementing state law.

We need our schools to accurately identify the incidence of bullying, so that we can eradicate it from all North Jersey schools.

By bringing these groups together, our North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force can study issues on the local level, find loopholes that need to be filled, and identify ways to make New Jersey and federal anti-bullying laws even stronger. I’m eager to work closely with the team and hear their recommendations. I will be keeping the Fifth District apprised of our plans for the Task Force as we move forward.

At the end of the day, we will stop at nothing to make sure our children are protected from bullying and to ensure the proper safeguards are in place.

That brings me to the Fifth Point of my Five-Point Anti-Bullying Action Plan. Our technology landscape is constantly changing. Cyberbullying tragically took its toll on Tyler.

As social media companies continue to wrestle with data, algorithms, and machine learning, I’m calling on these companies to redouble their efforts to protect our children on their platforms.

Continued advancement and development of machine learning will give us the opportunity to better identify online bullies and aggressors.

These social media platforms need to continue developing their technology to stay up-to-date with the tactics of new age cyberbullies, what they’re saying, what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it — to be able to address harassing content immediately.

With these three bills — Danny’s Law, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and especially the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act — with our North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force, and with the help of social media companies doubling down on cyberbullying and harassment online, we can attack this issue at every angle. We will bring the fight to bullying.

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, like Tyler, they may not see a solution.

To our teachers, faculty, administrators, child advocates, and to the YMCA, thank you for all that you do in our great state, in the greatest country in the world. Working together, our best days will always be ahead of us.

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