New Jersey’s anti-bullying statute, already among the nation’s most stringent, will be strengthened even further under legislation Gov. Phil Murphy today signed into law.
The bipartisan legislation (S-1790), which Senators Joe Pennacchio, R-Essex/Morris/Passaic, and Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, sponsored, improve protection for students by increasing penalties for parents and guardians and mandating school districts bolster bully-prevention policies.
Mallory Rose Grossman, a student from Rockaway who committed suicide at the age of 12 more than three years ago, is the inspiration behind the legislation. Grossman’s parents, Dianne and Seth, believe their daughter endured incessant bullying.
The Grossmans turned their family’s tragedy into advocacy, founding “Mallory’s Army,” a national movement to save other children from the devastating effects of bullying.
“This legislation seeks to address the unimaginable circumstances which led to the death of Mallory Rose Grossman, who took her own life in 2017 after suffering bullying at school and on social media,” Diegnan said.
Diegnan noted suicide is the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14, which he said can be partially attributed to cyberbullying.
“Cyber harassment has become another weapon used by bullies to destroy those innocent victims who they relentlessly target,” Diegnan said. “A parent or guardian who willfully disregards or enables the cyber-attacks of a minor adjudicated of cyber-harassment must be held accountable.”
Although New Jersey’s “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” which Diegnan sponsored, is considered to be one of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country, Diegnan said students have continued to be victimized, especially on social media, to the point of suicide.
“Hopefully,” Diegnan said, “this bill will equip schools with the tools to combat this epidemic.”
The bill amends New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights with specific requirements on school districts to help prevent and respond to bullying incidents and the imposition of civil liability on a parent or guardian demonstrating willful or wanton disregard in the supervision of a minor adjudicated delinquent of cyber-harassment or harassment.
“The Legislature has aggressively moved to control bullying in our schools, but it hasn’t been enough,” Pennacchio said in a press release.
“Today, victims of bullying are prone to attack 24 hours a day by schoolmates or rivals texting from their phones or flexing social media muscles online. This bill requires school and county officials to address bullying before it gets out of control, and makes it clear that districts, school officials and parents have a defined responsibility to protect children from aggressions that can occur on and off school property, on the internet, or by text.”
Under the bill, school districts would be required to include in their anti-bullying policies the specific consequences for a student harassing, intimidating, or bullying a schoolmate, and require superintendents to provide the school board with data on the number of reports that met the statutory definition of bullying.
The bill also increases penalties for parents or guardians who fail to comply with a court-ordered class or training on cyberbullying.
Currently, parents or guardians of a minor under the age of 16 found delinquent of cyber-harassment by the courts face fines from $25 to $100 for failure to attend classes with their child. The bill would raise the penalties to $100 to $500.
“Placing a higher price tag on compliance encourages parents to take some responsibility and put an end to their child’s dangerous conduct,” Pennacchio said. “A $25 fine isn’t going to do anything. A $500 fine is going to get their attention.”
Diegnan said he is heartened that the legislation received the support of the New Jersey State PBA, Garden State Coalition of Schools, New Jersey Association of School Administrators, and New Jersey School Boards Association.