NJ schools report 12K bullying instances last year

AP News

10/2/2012 5:46:02 PM - AP News

New Jersey education officials now have some handle on just how much bullying happens in the state's public schools. Data made public Tuesday show there were 12,024 instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying reported in the 2011-12 school year — the first year the state's tough new anti-bullying law was in effect.

New Jersey used a new definition of the behaviors, so there are no previous data for comparison. The numbers of incidents reported Tuesday vary widely by district and may reflect how diligent each school is at reporting, rather than how much bullying there is.

Bullying in school, once written off as just something kids have to deal with, has evolved into a serious issue. New Jersey was among a wave of states that passed anti-bullying laws a decade ago after the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

In 2012, it's far more widely seen as a real problem. On Tuesday, a television anchorwoman in La Crosse, Wis., went on air with a four-minute segment criticizing a man who emailed her about her weight. Jennifer Livingston called the man a bully and told young viewers not to let people like him affect them.

New Jersey's law got an overhaul, which advocates said made it the nation's toughest, in a law passed in 2010 and signed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011. Though the bill was already in the works, attention given to the 2010 suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, whose freshman-year roommate used a webcam to watch him kissing another man, resulted in quick passage of the state's new law.

Now, schools are required to have anti-bullying programs and coordinators while those measures previously had been merely recommended.

And schools are required to report instances of bullying to the state.

In the state's report tabulating those reports for the first time, Woodbridge, a district with more than 13,000 students, had the most reported incidents, with 177. Newark, the state's largest school district with more than 39,000 pupils last year, had 105 reported incidents.

In Camden's school district, there were 35 reported incidents. But at D.U.E. Season, a small charter school in Camden — and not considered part of the school district — there were 16.

Some mid-size districts reported no bullying incidents.

The state also says that there were fewer assaults, fights, criminal threats, robbery, extortion and vandalism last year, compared with the previous school year.

While relatively small numbers, there were more cases of students caught with guns and drugs at school.

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Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield, N.J.