BY TOM HESTER SR.
The state Council on Local Mandates Friday struck down New Jersey’s anti-bullying law, declaring it represents an unfunded mandate on school districts and local governments.
The Allamuchy Board of Education complained to the council in August that the law would cost the district money to enforce and that the state did not provide financial aid.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), a sponsor of what was considered a landmark bill, called the council “a shadowy fourth branch of government” and vowed to continue her effort to protect New Jersey students who are subject to bullying and harassment.
“For the countless students subjected to bullying day in and day out, this decision is devastating,” Vainieri Huttle said. “My message to all of these students today is that we will not give up. We will work on their behalf to change the culture within our schools so that everyone can receive a ‘thorough and efficient’ education without being subjected to bullying, harassment and intimidation.
“I applaud all of the school districts that have been working throughout the year to implement this law and I hope the council’s decision will not dilute their commitment to preventing bullying,” the Assemblywoman added. “This rarely used, shadowy fourth branch of government voted behind closed doors to dismantle a law sponsored by two-thirds of the Legislature and approved and signed into law by the governor. Rest assured we will review the council’s decision thoroughly to find a way to make this law workable for everyone.”
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), another sponsor of the law, said she will work on a revised version of the law.
“It is extremely disappointing that something as common sense as protecting our kids and making school a safe, nurturing environment has been so quickly tossed aside.
"While we must respect the council's decision, it is similarly disappointing that this decision was not reached with the benefit of any open public debate,” Weinberg said. “There are many school districts across the state that have been implementing their anti-bullying programs without issue, and hopefully their efforts will not be abandoned. Our children deserve these efforts to continue.”
The anti-bulling law went into effect on the first day of school in September.
According to a report by the state Department of Education - for the 2008-09 school year - New Jersey school districts reported 2,846 incidents of bullying, intimidation, harassment, or threatening. The total is believed to be far below the actual number of bullying incidents. The anti-bullying law was designed to change that reporting deficiency.