Bullying is a severe problem affecting many New Jersey students, especially those who identify as LGBTQ+ or transgender. According to the CDC, LGBTQ+, and transgender youth are more likely to be bullied on school property than their straight and cisgender peers. Bullying can have devastating consequences for these vulnerable students’ mental health and well-being, sometimes leading to tragic outcomes such as suicide.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed the tragic case of Adriana Kuch, a 14-year-old freshman at Central Regional High School in Bayville, who took her own life after being tormented by bullies for months. Her father, Michael Kuch, has accused the school administration of failing to protect his daughter and enforce the anti-bullying policies required by state law. He is not alone in his grief and anger. Many parents and students have rallied to demand justice for Adriana and accountability from the school district.
New Jersey has been a leader in establishing a solid legal framework to prevent, remediate and report harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) in schools. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression. However, these laws are only effective if they are implemented consistently and adequately by school officials. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many schools across the state.
We urge the New Jersey Department of Education to investigate the circumstances surrounding Adriana’s death thoroughly and hold accountable any school personnel who failed to comply with their legal obligations. We also call on all school districts to review their HIB policies and procedures and ensure they are aligned with best practices and current research. Moreover, we urge all school staff to receive adequate training on how to identify, intervene and support students who are victims or perpetrators of bullying, especially those who belong to marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ or transgender youth.
Bullying is not a harmless rite of passage or a minor issue that can be ignored or dismissed. It is a severe threat that can destroy lives and shatter communities. We owe it to our children to create safe and supportive learning environments where they can thrive regardless of gender identity or expression.
(The Images used in this post, and many of our posts, are licensed stock images)