Bullies Beware: N.J. About to Crack Down on You

By Brian Thompson
|  Monday, Nov 15, 2010  |  Updated 8:05 PM EDT
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Bill could be the strongest of its kind in the nation.

Bill could be the strongest of its kind in the nation.

Imagine being gay and going to school to see the words "Gays Must Die" scrawled on the lunchroom wall near where you sit.

That kind of bullying faced Matt Zimmer, 16, last Spring at Ridgewood High School.

"It was very upsetting and it was very depressing," said Zimmer.

It is just one example of the kind of bullying that New Jersey legislators seem determined to push back on, with an Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights law that is so far sailing through committee.

"Bullying is an epidemic that has destroyed... the lives of so many of us," said Steve Goldstein, founder of gay-rights group Garden State Equality.

Goldstein said he was bullied as a student growing up in New York City: "Bullied to a pulp, spit at, kicked."

The legislation which has overwhelming bipartisan support would require all schools to investigate and report every bullying complaint. Schools would be graded by the State at the end of the year on how well they did.

It would also, according to Goldstein, require a week of teaching respect every October at all schools in the state.

It cannot come too soon for Zimmer, who is taking on-line courses to finish his freshman year of high school.

He said the wall message came after a teacher "outed" him in class.

"Matt became very depressed, he was extremely depressed," said his mom, Sherry.

"He lost contact with his friends, he lost interest in most of his activities," she said.

Ridgewood's Superintendent Dan Fishbein said because of personnel issues, he could not discuss the "outing" that Zimmer said he suffered in class.

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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