Last week’s column described a major victory for individual freedom – the Supreme Court ruling that parents are responsible for supervising their children and protecting them from hideous computer games. Now, elected officials are taking another age-old situation out of the hands of parents, teachers, and principals by creating a statewide government program that reeks of Big Brother. The current “crisis” is bullying in schools and, unfortunately, some of the best hopes on the Republican side have fallen victim to this craze.
I think it’s fair to say that virtually nobody endorses bullying of students, but the real question is whether the situation has become so pervasive that we need to establish completely new mechanisms to confront the issue. A quick Internet search affirms that there are already national organizations that educate people on how to stop bullying.
But for some people, this just isn’t good enough, and now state legislatures are stepping in. We’ve all seen how the process works: A few incidents happen; urged on by an aggrieved constituent, a legislator creates an interest in the issue and proposes a law. Hearings are held in which proponents dig up similarly-suffering souls. Because there’s no opposition, no one at the hearing argues against the bill, which then sails through the legislature. The Governor then signs it, never questioning the growth of government or the intervention and assumption of individual rights.
The most recent state to jump on this bandwagon is New Jersey, even though they had already passed relevant legislation in 2002. But that wasn’t enough for the anti-bullying lobby, which proposed a new, “comprehensive” law. The bill was properly stalled until a freshman at Rutgers University, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide after his roommate posted photos of a homosexual encounter on the Internet. How a college freshman who kills himself equates to a law controlling behavior of K-12 students was never explained. Garden State Equality Chairman Steven Goldstein, one of the principal backers of the bill, said this: "The Tyler Clementi tragedy was certainly uppermost in legislators' minds in acting as quickly and boldly as they did. New Jersey would have passed some law, but it wouldn’t have happened as quickly and it would have been nowhere as strong as the law that just passed."
The bill requires training for teachers, administrators and other school employees in how to recognize bullying, and mandates that school districts set up a “school safety team” to review complaints. The law also requires schools to appoint anti-bullying specialists and districts to hire an anti-bullying coordinator. Schools and districts must regularly submit reports to the state Department of Education, and districts will be graded by the state on their efforts to confront the problem.
The bill declares that the State cannot calculate the economic impact. Isn’t that convenient? The new district obligations will cost millions. New positions will have to be added to handle these duties. Training manuals and DVDs will have to be developed and printed. Will school districts mandate half days off for bullying seminars? And because the analysts didn’t identify any economic impact, this becomes an unfunded mandate on every one of the state’s school districts. The state government won’t go unscathed either, as they’ll have to hire a new “Bullying Czar” who will have staff, issue regulations, and appoint a committee to review each district’s compliance.
Administrators and teachers are subject to disciplinary action for not reporting and investigating incidents, whether in or outside of school – which means they could now be obligated to monitor Internet activity of students. Since the education personnel have their own careers on the line, they’re going to err in the favor of their paycheck and report anything with the faintest odor of bullying. This means that students will often be subject to suspension, expulsion, or even referral to the police on the flimsiest of evidence. Students aren’t left out of this mess either, as they’ll have to report any incident or be subject to disciplinary action. Because bullying can easily be verbal, the State has now criminalized speech both inside and outside of schools – a First Amendment issue upon which defense lawyers will happily pounce.
This massive expansion of government flew through the New Jersey legislature. The Assembly passed it 73-1 (with 6 abstentions). Of the 33 Republicans, 28 voted for it. In the Senate, it passed 30-0 (with 10 not voting). Half of the Senate’s 16 Republicans voted for this measure.
Michael Patrick Carroll was the sole elected official that voted against this expansion of government. Other than the aspects of government invasiveness, Assemblyman Carroll told me the fact that the bullying bill only deals with perceived oppressed groups – gays, blacks, etc. If a white boy is being bullied by other white boys, he is not protected by this bill. He stated a recent incident of that sort exemplified why the bill was just to appease certain special interests.
The worst part is that the Governor signed it. Chris Christie is one of the shining lights of the Republican Party, and had been actively encouraged to run for President despite only two years in office. If someone like Governor Christie can sign this bill into law, then one must wonder what Republicans really stand for. If he thinks that common schoolyard behavior must be legislated and controlled at the state level, what hope do we have to reverse the growth of government control over our lives?
This is a perfect example of how government continues its relentless expansion. And yet people still wonder why groups like the Tea Party, who want to take back their lives and finances, were formed spontaneously by ordinary citizens. We must work to change the attitude of our fellow citizens toward their government. We are creating a country of wimps dependent on government officials to determine our daily behavior. Sad, very sad.
Note: Subsequent to completion of this column, The Wall Street Journal reported that lawsuits of school districts regarding issues of bullying are on the rise. Can we say this is not a shocking development?