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Monday, November 29, 2010

Anti-Bullying as New Bully Tactic

New Jersey's Governor has yet to sign - or veto - a new anti-bullying statute (A.3488) passed two weeks ago by both houses of the New Jersey legislature.

Chris Christie should veto it, for among other reasons, it creates liability for teachers and school administrators who fail to respond appropriately to a bullying complaint.

True bullying is a problem, undoubtedly, but it is best served with personal attention and supervision. Instead, New Jersey promises to have a law which will, in practical terms, compel risk-averse (I.e. wanting to avoid liability) teachers to monitor, supervise and in some cases prohibit virtually all student socializing where someone could claim to have hurt feelings.

Note that last phrase. The burden of proof is on the object of the complaint, who could be totally innocent. What if a few kids get together and agree to make false claims against another unpopular student? (Sound like bullying to you?) This law gives the bullies a new weapon: false accusations instead of fists.

This bill will increase the ranks of the falsely accused, the wrongfully accused and the totally innocent children -- that's right, children -- who will be stigmatized and traumatized by punishments, authority figures who will assign blame to them on nothing more than the say-so of others, and even by possible juvenile experiences with law enforcement.

Families will need to have lawyers (like me) on call to protect their kids' rights under a system where the true primary objective is to protect the teachers and administrators (the same ones not getting raises and having their salaries under attack by Christie) from legal liability. The schools' objective won't be to protect kids, certainly not from true bullies. (The real bullying will go on outside, as always, beyond the watchful eye of parents and teachers.).

And actual teaching of students? That's going to be forgotten under a maze of liability traps.  As teachers and administrators become more concerned with their own liabilities (and in fairness, with good reason), their time and energy available to devote to what you think is their primary job -- actually teaching our kids -- will diminish.

(One could be Machiavellian and say that in New Jersey, this is part of a nefarious plot to cause the public school system to deteriorate further in order to build up more public support for "charter schools," which are nothing more than conduits to transfer taxpayer dollars to favored private-sector parties who run these schools.)

This is what happens with short-sighted policy measures enacted for political gain.

But stopping bullying? This bill won't do anything of the sort.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer, also admitted in New Jersey, who represents individuals, entrepreneurs and small businesses on legal, management consulting and strategic analysis issues. Mr. Dixon's professional website is http://www.NYBusinessCounsel.com and he can be reached for comment at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com and 917-696-2442.

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