Gov. Chris Christie and the legislature recently funded -- to general approval -- the state's anti-bullying law. Drawing less attention was a new provision to create a seven-member task force to review both the costs and the efficacy of the law going forward.
Yesterday, Christie and the legislature announced the first five appointments to the new commission, a mix of people from education, academia and law.
Christie’s appointments are:
Bradford C. Lerman, director, Rutgers University’s Bullying Prevention Institute;
Toni Pergolin, president and CEO, Bancroft;
Joseph Ricca, superintendent, East Hanover Township Schools;
Patricia Wright, executive director, NJ Principals and Supervisors Association.
In addition, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) announced she would name to the panel Jessica Gorton deKoninck, a Montclair lawyer and former legislative liaison for state Department of Education.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D- Gloucester) will have one appointment as well, and the last will be jointly chosen by Sweeney and Oliver.
The one member from the public school, Ricca from East Hanover, conceded that no district -- including his Morris County district of three schools -- is immune from the issues of bullying and intimidation, and he said the new law has been a big step forward in addressing them.
“From the perspective of bringing attention to the issue, then the law has done a great service,” he said yesterday.
In his district this school year, Ricca said he has seen an uptick in bullying claims so far, to about 36 reports, although the number of actual incidents is probably a half dozen.
But he said the law has provided a structure and timeline for addressing them, as well as the platform for working with parents and bringing in community resources to help prevent the incidents in the first place.
For instance, he said East Hanover is piloting a program with the county’s Crimestoppers program for an anonymous tip hotline for students and families.
Still, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges, Ricca said, noting that additional state money would likely help in providing training and programs. He said he hopes to bring that perspective from the field to the new task force.
“Have there been imperfections? Of course,” Ricca said. “But we can’t let the challenges get in the way of our ultimate goal of protecting our kids.”