School shootings and Columbine High School. AIDS/HIV awareness and Ryan White. Cyber bullying and Tyler Clementi. There are times when tragic circumstances endured by students come to define a school issue, serving as a catalyst for soul searching, debate and change.
Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, leaped to his death off the George Washington Bridge in September of 2010 following a series of online taunts from his dormitory roommate. The student used a webcam to secretly watch Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man in their room, then posted a series of tweets making fun of him and his sexuality.
The reaction to the incident was swift and powerful. Then-New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Congressman Rush Holt co-sponsored federal legislation that provided funding to schools for developing bullying response plans. And just two months after Clementi’s death, the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly passed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act with overwhelming bi-partisan support. Today it is still considered one of the strongest laws in the country dealing with harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB).
Brian Luciani, director of academics for the Kenilworth (New Jersey) School District, recalled the Clementi case as a moment when the momentum for change was undeniable. The state enacted an anti-bullying law not long after Columbine, but it was regarded as weak and did not keep up with the pace of technological changes. For all of the transformational good the Internet brought to American life, it had also become a destructive force, not just for the victims of cyberbullying but for immature users who don’t think ahead.
“Nothing you post is hidden,” Luciani said. “Look at James Gunn, who was just removed from the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. III project because of some offensive tweets he posted years ago. Kids need to learn the valuable lesson that you are responsible for what you post so you need to think twice before you do. Because once it’s out there, it’s out there for good.”
Meeting HIB Obligations with STOPit
Like many laws that were drafted with the best intentions, New Jersey’s anti-bullying legislation has its detractors – both those who think its scope is too broad and those who feel it doesn’t go far enough. The original legislation has been amended over the years, but the following are some of its most significant mandates.
- The definition of what constituted HIB was greatly widened. Where the previous law focused on situations where someone caused harm or threatened it against a fellow student, the new one covers any situation in which students’ physical or emotional comfort is infringed upon in a way that can disrupt their education.
- When a school employee witnesses or receives information about an incident, they must report it to the principal that day and submit a report about it within two days. Following an investigation by the principal and school anti-bullying personnel, a final report must be submitted to the superintendent, who may impose discipline, order counseling or intervene in other ways they deem appropriate.
- Schools must inform the parents of all involved students about the incident.
- All public schools were required to submit reports to the state documenting any HIB complaints. The data is used to grade schools on their performance each year.
There are far more obligations laid out in the legislation and implementing them has been a challenge for school administrators. However, Luciani said STOPit has been instrumental in helping his schools manage.
For starters, the app goes “above and beyond” in satisfying HIB regulations mandating that schools provide a means for students to anonymously report incidents. The written records submitted by students – which are often backed up with screen captures, photos and other supporting evidence – are highly useful for completing investigations and reporting requirements he said.
The law also now demands that schools address bullying taking place off school grounds – even if it’s on a weekend or holiday — if it causes the student to feel uncomfortable coming to school. Luciani noted that this can present difficult judgment calls for teachers in knowing when an off-premises incident can properly be considered school business. But the information students submit via STOPit can help school administrators understand the situation and make that decision easier.
The Start of STOPit
Luciani has the distinction of being STOPit’s first customer, having decided to try it in one of the district’s schools when he was a principal. At the time he viewed it as a tool with little downside and plenty of potential when offered in combination with other school anti-bullying initiatives.
“It was the right place, right time and a great opportunity to try something new,” he said. “The kids got it right away and STOPit was great in offering support and answering questions so that when things came up, they could handle it quickly.”
Beyond the tool itself, he said he appreciates the work the STOPit team puts in to adapt the technology and help his schools confront new realities on this ever-challenging front.
“It’s an excellent tool in the toolbox,” Luciani said. “It’s continual, it’s always there, and whether or not kids decide to use it, you’ve at least provided them with a very good option.”
Your school can use STOPit to help stop bullying and harassment and make it easier to comply with New Jersey’s HIB reporting requirements. Click below to contact us and find out more.