WEST ORANGE, NJ - Sponsored by the West Orange Human Relations Commission, last night's Anti Bullying program at the Town Council meeting brought awareness of state and local efforts to address bullying in schools and in the community.
Victor Cirilo, Town Council President, welcomed the program participants, HRC Commissioners, and residents in attendance. He then introduced Assemblyman John McKeon, who was instrumental in sponsorship of the NJ Anti Bullying Law. He spoke of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student that committed suicide after being unknowingly videotaped in an encounter with another male. He said that it is estimated that one out of three students is bullied in some way between grades K-12, and that 15% percent of all school absences are due to bullying incidents.
Assemblyman McKeon then introduced Steven Goldstein, Founder of Garden State Equality. GSE is one of the largest civil rights groups in New Jersey and was also instrumental in the passage of the NJ Anti Bullying Law. Goldstein, a passionate speaker, thanked West Orange for being a municipality on the forefront of social justice issues. He then shared some of his own experiences as a child, saying that he had been bullied, not because he was gay, not because he was Jewish, but because he was short. He went on to indicate that physical appearance is the Number 1 reason for bullying. Goldstein did mention that gay students can be bullied 2-9 times more than straight ones.
Noting that he had just received a Facebook "Friend Request" from a woman who had viciously bullied him when they were teenagers, he said how the scars of bullying will always remain with the victims, and how viscerally he had reacted to that friend request. Goldstein said that victims, though many may not admit it, want to see justice done. His revenge, he said, was in making the world a better place to live. "The world changed," he spoke, in assessing how diversity has begun to bring about the political climate that allowed passage of the NJ Anti Bullying law, the strictest in all 50 states. (Some school districts consider this 'burdensome'). Now, when an incident is reported, it must be addressed the same day with a resolution in ten days. In closing, Goldstein said that schools and parents should not consider an SAT score of 2400 to be a student's only success: that student should also be taught the value of 'respect' in the face of a diverse and changing world.
Pastor Douglas Adams, Chairman of the WOHRC, thanked the guests and about how pleased he was to see community engagement on the issue.
Michael Gallo, Assistant Headmaster at Seton Hall Prep, then spoke about how SHP participated with WOHS in last year's Anti Bullying effort at Homecoming Game. The SHP Student Council also initiated a meeting with the WOHS student council to discuss anti bullying and respect. They hope to continue that effort this year and expand it to include all HS Student Councils.
Joyce Raynor, Head of Golda Och Academy, was unable to attend due to the Festival of Sukkot, but sent a prepared statement in support of Anti Bullying efforts.
Cheryl Butler, Head of WOHS Guidance and HIB Coordinator (Harrassment, Intimidation, and Bullying) for the West Orange Public Schools, spoke of the continued efforts of the school district to address bullying and comply with the law.
The program then ended with closing statements by Cynthia Cumming, West Orange HRC Relations Commissioner.
After the program, Recreation Department Program Coordinator Juan Pintado shared upcoming Rec Events. The Alternative Press will post information about many of these events in the near future. Jessica Glicker, Public Information Officer, got up and thanked everyone for their hard work in making the Town Picnic a success.
The town council then went into an extended private session prior to the start of the general public meeting. The second half of the meeting will be covered in a second article later this week.