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Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Jersey Antibullying Law Will Bully and Hurt Kids Even More

Bullies who make false accusations will have a new weapon: a new anti-bullying law just signed into law today by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (originally sponsored as A.3588, and previously criticized by Crime, Politics and Policy) that will have a huge, unintended and undesirable impact.

This is really bad news for New Jersey children. This law requires training for teachers on how to spot and stop bullying, and allows for the suspension and expulsion of those students found to be bullies.  While the intent of the law is clear, it will be ripe for exploitation by the very people whose bad behavior is the target of the law.

The problem is that this new law assumes there can and will be no false accusations. (That is, like New York WABC-TV weathercaster Heidi Jones, who was, in my opinion, appropriately charged criminally on Wednesday in Manhattan with a misdemeanor for filing a false report in which she claimed a Hispanic man tried to attack her in Central Park.)

The false accusations can themselves be a form of bullying. This law creates too much of a presumption of legitimacy for the accusation -- "it's true because I said so."

This law will not protect the true victims of bullying. Even if it has a deterrent value -- which I doubt -- the bullies can just move elsewhere and do their thing outside the schools.

But the real danger (and maybe the real reason why the law enjoyed so much support) is that the law makes all sorts of innocent children potential victims, because it gives schools the power to label, wrongfully, students as bullies and punish, ostracize or expel students it doesn't want.

A child of a political opponent of a town's leadership will be at risk. The bully label will become a new weapon of political retribution.

Special education students will be at risk. This law will give financially-strapped school districts an escape valve to get rid of students who are more expensive to teach, by labelling them bullies.

Parents will need lawyers on call to defend their kids against false accusations, exaggerations and school actions.

So how does any of this help the kids who are actually bullied?

It doesn't. But that was never the point of this legislation.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer. He can be reached at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com and 917-696-2442.

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