More mental health services, partnerships with organizations outside of schools and additional anti-bullying specialists are just some of the ways a group of community leaders is hoping to put an end to bullying.
The North Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force brought together parents, teachers, students, administrators, child advocates and experts in a Zoom call on Thursday to recommend ways that school districts and government officials can better address instances of bullying.
Jane Clementi of Ridgewood, who co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation after her son’s death by suicide in 2010 after a bullying incident at Rutgers University, chaired the task force, which was created by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-Wyckoff.
In a report released Thursday, the task force identified five main ways that the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act could be improved:
- Redefine the New Jersey definition of bullying.
- Improve investigations into bullying incidents.
- Improve and expand training for teachers and staff.
- Incorporate mental health services into the school setting.
- Address cyberbullying earlier and beyond school settings.
Changing the names of the victim to “target” and the bully to “aggressor” is “more empowering” for the target and can cause encouragement that the aggressor’s behavior can change, Clementi said.
“We feel that motivation behind an aggressor’s actions is critical to identifying bullying behavior as well as considering the individual’s age or disability of the people involved … it also takes away the focus from the target and focuses more on the aggressor’s behavior so we can hopefully change those behaviors,” she said.
Many situations may fall outside of the bounds of a traditional harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) investigation, Clementi said. For example, a group of friends teasing one another is different from a group of students picking on a lone student.
The task force would also like to see more resources given to HIB investigations. Many anti-bullying specialists in school districts, who are responsible for investigating incidents of bullying, have other roles and can’t dedicate 100% of their time toward investigations.
Carla Mancuso, a task force member who works as a special education teacher at High Point High School, said that from her experience, an anti-bullying specialist can wear “many hats,” from guidance counselor to vice-principal.
“When something happens, it’s like going to an emergency room and pulling a doctor from the third floor who is doing his rounds to now come in and do an intake of the emergency victim,” Mancuso said. “It doesn’t work. There’s too many starts and stops.”
The group believes schools would benefit from having one or more specialists with mental health experience in a district whose sole responsibility is to manage all HIB cases. If a district-wide anti-bullying specialist isn’t feasible, the group would like to see “a distinct ABS role.”
“Sometimes the schools are disincentivized to report these incidents because it goes against their reputation,” Mancuso said. “The workload that is involved is incredible.”
The current Anti-Bullying Bill of Right Act doesn’t require that a counselor or a mental health professional follow up with students involved in bullying incidents, said Sarah Amador, a task force member and a psychologist with Psychological Associates of North Jersey.
“Many aggressors have underlying personal challenges that may be motivating their aggressive act toward other students,” Amador said. “Many targets experience actual trauma as a result of these bullying incidents. An incredible area of concern is that there isn’t a follow-up.”
As a solution, the task force recommends offering mental health sessions directly in schools or through telehealth sessions, and conducting mental health screening programs for students who are at risk of being aggressors or targets or may be struggling with other mental health issues.
Recognizing that schools may not have the budget to fund additional mental health initiatives, the task force recommends creating more opportunities that allow school districts to take part in private-public partnerships and increase federal and state investment in these types of programs, Amador said.
To read the full report, go to gottheimer.house.gov and navigate to Latest News. A link to the report is contained in the press release.
Stephanie Noda is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community,
Contact: Jane Clementi
Walking on eggshells, Jane Clementi embarks on a difficult journey to speak openly about a subject too often ignored, considered frightening or uncomfortable: religion.
Leaders and lay people ask SBC to lead on racial and LGBTQ equality after their years of working against equality.
America – The Tyler Clementi Foundation has launched an education campaign to show the immense harm and pain that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has caused with their harmful teachings and traditions of dogma, bias and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. The SBC has been a major force in denying too many LGBTQ+ people full legal and spiritual equality.
“This initiative is urgently needed, we must not let another youth be told that ‘being gay is a sin,’” said Jane Clementi, co-founder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation. “No one should ever hear a message that they are broken, less than or separated from God because of how God created them or whom God created them to love. Those harmful messages are a heinous form of bullying.”’
The education campaign recognizes that, in general, people including the media, are afraid to speak about others’ religious beliefs and teachings. In America it is taboo to point to religious teachings as bad or wrong. “Religious freedom must of course be protected as a major pillar of the American Constitution. But that does not mean we have to be complicit with dangerous dogma,” Jane Clementi continued. Consequently, the campaign will feature personal letters to a wide variety of SBC leaders. These letters will be posted on all social media platforms as well as the Tyler Clementi website (TylerClementi.org).
“The purpose is to reach ‘the people in the pews’ and bypass the paid leadership at headquarters who generally feel it is their job to dig in their heels and perpetuate the church’s dogma,” said Pastor Stan Mitchell, who continued, “Historically, churches change when the people realize the pain and suffering they are causing.”
Letters have been sent to SBC president Pastor J.D. Greear, based in Durham, NC; the SBC churches that Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham attend; as well as the SBC church House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy attends; and other influential churches throughout the country. See attached list.
Jane Clementi sent the first letter and is bringing together a wide range of advocacy organizations and individuals who have been impacted by SBC teachings to be part of this campaign, including:
- Pastor Stan Mitchell who, as a pastor of an evangelical church in Franklin, TN started to recognize the consequences of anti-LGBTQ+ teachings on his parishioners. This led to a period of discernment where he and the congregation became fully affirming. They began performing same sex unions, and stopped teaching “homosexuality is a sin.”
- Pastor David Key, founding pastor of Lake Oconee Community Church in Georgia, has spent years with AWAB (Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists) after realizing the long history of SBC teaching’s abuses to LGBTQ people young and old. Pastor Key understands and speaks to the denominational culture’s challenges but calls on the SBC to use their leadership to shift the harmful paradigms among fellow Southern Baptists.
- Daniel Karslake, grew up in a non-affirming home that led him as a film writer/producer/director to make For The Bible Tells Me So, an internationally acclaimed documentary exploring what the Bible does and doesn’t say about LGBTQ people. This past June, his newest documentary, For They Know Not What They Do, launched based on the words of Jesus as he was crucified. It is a compelling documentary following 4 conservative Christian families as they grapple with their faith and a family member who is transgender or same-sex attracted.
- Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group. Alphonso writes as a Black and gay man about growing up in a household with Baptist roots that did not affirm LGBTQ people. He speaks from his heart about his journey to finding God and a radical love that welcomed him just as he is. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is proud to be deepening its engagement on religion and faith issues, and is dedicated to continuing to reach out to and build bridges with all faith communities.
- Kevin Jennings, President of Lambda Legal, founder of GLSEN and the son of a SBC preacher. His personal journey brings light to his commitment for all LGBTQ youth, and along with Alphonso David, expresses his motivations for speaking directly to anti-LGBTQ religious leaders.
“Growing up in the traditional Christian faith as a Black, gay man was challenging and unsettling. From a young age, I heard messages at home and from the pulpit that God did not accept LGBTQ people. I did not feel welcomed by the Church and was forced to find God on my own,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “Eventually, I was able to find the radical love of God that I know today — and I discovered that the Bible does not condemn me or anyone in the LGBTQ community for who we are and who we love, but instead it sets forth a vision for our full inclusion in society.”
Alphonso David continued “The Bible tells us that God loves each and every one of us, but this love is not being felt by far too many people. Too many faith leaders hide behind warped views of religious texts in order to advance violent rhetoric and discrimination. This must stop. Those who threaten to lock people out of the kingdom of heaven are not following Jesus’s ethic of inclusion. We implore the Southern Baptist Convention to end their sinful anti-LGBTQ practices, repent for the harm they have done and choose the way of God’s radical and all-encompassing love.”
The end goal is set, quite simply, for when the SBC changes their teachings and demonstrates their leadership in bringing about racial and LGBTQ equality. Full equality, legal and spiritual. Until then, the campaign will continue to tell Southern Baptist leaders and those in the pews about the damage these viewpoints and teachings — what amounts to the dangerous practice of so-called “conversion therapy” — have inflicted on LGBTQ+ parishioners until they choose to change.
The Tyler Clementi Foundation’s mission is to end online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces and faith communities. Founded in 2011 by the Clementi family in memory of Tyler – a son, brother and friend – the foundation’s flagship bullying-prevention and education program is #Day1. Other programs include the Upstander Pledge, Upstander Speaker Series, Tyler’s Suite, Workplace Training and True Faith Doesn’t Bully, a public education campaign that fights religious bullying. The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, re-introduced in Congress in 2016, would require colleges and universities receiving federal funding to prohibit harassment based on actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion.