Anti-Bullying

Anti-BullyingIn the wake of national media coverage surrounding multiple student suicides, the New Jersey Legislature passed the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” with nearly unanimous support in both houses on Nov. 22. Gov. Chris Christie signed the legislation as P.L. 2010, Chapter 122 (P.L. 2010, c.122), on Jan. 5. Summary of the law

The law strengthened the state’s already existing anti-bullying legislation, and the new provisions will take full effect in the 2011-12 school year.

NJEA supported the overall bill but sought to strengthen the legislation by lobbying for amendments that would have required proper funding for training and programs in each district. NJEA insisted that school personnel who are required to serve as “anti-bullying specialists” should be trained and certified. Those recommendations did not find their way into the final version of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. See NJEA official position statement

When carrying out the mandates of the law, however, school districts must honor the provisions of collective bargaining agreements.

LEGAL CHALLENGE: The State Council on Local Mandates struck down New Jersey’s anti-bullying law as an unfunded mandate. The Allumuchy school district (Warren County) fought the law on the basis that it imposed costs unjustly on school districts that were required to execute it. Thereafter, a bill was introduced to appropriate $1 million to the Bullying Prevention Fund.  Read more about this legal challenge to the anti-bullying law.

FUNDING LAW UPDATE: Lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly passed the legislation on March 15. On March 26, 2012, Gov. Chris Christie signed the legislation creating a $1 million fund to pay for anti-bullying training programs in schools. Read more

Law includes incidents off school grounds

The law defines harassment, intimidation or bullying as “any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic… that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, on a school bus, or off school grounds … that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students, and that a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or damaging a student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm to his person or damage his property.”

Reporting and procedural requirements

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights provides detailed procedures and timelines for reporting incidents of bullying. All school employees and contracted service providers are required to report such incidents.

  • All acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying must be reported verbally to the school principal on the same day when the school employee or contracted service provider witnesses or receives reliable information regarding any such incident. The school employee or service provider must submit a written report of the incident to the principal within two days.
  • The principal must inform the parents or guardians of all students involved in the alleged incident and may discuss the availability of counseling and other intervention services.
  • The principal or principal’s designee must initiate an investigation of the incident within one school day of the report. The school anti-bullying specialist conducts the investigation. The principal may appoint other staff to assist the specialist.
  • The investigation must be completed as soon as possible, but no later than 10 days after the principal had received the initial written report of the incident. The report of the investigation may be amended by the anti-bullying specialist if new information becomes available.
  • The superintendent must receive the report of the investigation within two days of its completion. The superintendent may provide intervention services, establish training programs, impose discipline, order counseling, or take other appropriate actions.
  • The school board must receive the report at its first meeting following the investigation along with information on actions taken to address the incident or incidents.
  • Parents of student involved in the incident are entitled to information about the investigation and may request a hearing with the school board in its executive session. The board may also hear from the anti-bullying specialist at the hearing. At its next meeting, the board must issue a written decision affirming, rejecting, or modifying the superintendent’s decision. The board’s decision may be appealed to the commissioner of education.

Schools graded

Twice annually, school districts will be required to submit reports on harassment, intimidation, and bullying to the public and to the Department of Education. The department will use the data to assign a grade to schools and to districts. The grade must be posted on the school district website.

Data identifying the number and nature of all reports of harassment, intimidation, and bullying will be added to the New Jersey School Report Card.

Professional development

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights requires that training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying be part of the training required for public school staff members in suicide prevention. That instruction is required to include information on reducing the risk of suicide for students who are members of communities identified as having members at high risk for suicide.

Public school teachers will be required to complete at least two hours of instruction on harassment, intimidation, or bullying prevention in each professional development period. Candidates for teacher certification will be required to complete programs on bullying.

Administrators and board of education members will have programs on harassment, intimidation, and bullying added to their training requirements.

Higher education included

Under the law, public institutions of higher education must adopt a policy to be included in the student code of conduct that prohibits harassment, intimidation, or bullying. The policy must outline disciplinary consequences and be distributed to students by e-mail to each student within seven days of the start of each semester. The policy must be posted on the school’s website.

The anti-bullying specialist

Under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, principals are required to appoint one of their staff members as the school’s anti-bullying specialist. The law specifies that the principal must appoint the currently employed guidance counselor, school psychologist, or another similarly trained individual to fill this role. If there is no such individual in the school, the principal must appoint another already employed individual in the school.

The commissioner of education is directed to establish in-service programs to train selected public school employees to act as school anti-bullying specialists and district anti-bullying coordinators.

At the district level, the superintendent must appoint a district anti-bullying coordinator. The bill does not specify the criteria for selecting the district coordinator other than that the “superintendent shall make every effort to appoint an employee of the school district to this position.” The district coordinator must work with the school coordinators, coordinate district bullying prevention policies, and file reports with the state Department of Education.

The school safety team

The school anti-bullying specialist is required to chair a school safety team composed of the principal (or his or her designee) and the following other appointees of the principal:  a teacher in the school, a parent of a student in the school, and other members determined by the principal. The law specifies that the parent on the team may not participate in any activities the team undertakes that may compromise student confidentiality.

According to the legislation, the purpose of the school safety team is to develop, foster, and maintain a positive school climate. Such teams will identify and address patterns of harassment, intimidation, or bullying. The legislation outlines policy revision and training responsibilities that fall on the team.

The bill also requires that the teams be provided with professional development opportunities that address effective practices of successful school climate programs and approaches.

Week of Respect established

The law designates the week beginning the first Monday in October of each year as a “Week of Respect” in the New Jersey. School districts are directed to observe the week by providing age-appropriate instruction focusing on preventing harassment, intimidation, or bullying. Throughout the school year, districts are expected to provide similar instruction in accordance with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards.

Resources

Links

  • NEA Bully Free Schools campaign
  • Be a STAR - In partnership with the Be A STAR Anti-bullying Campaign, the National Education Association Health Information Network offers a complimentary teaching resource for educators. The compelling new film, “That’s What I Am”, touches on the growing national problem of bullying in schools. Staring Academy Award-nominated actor Ed Harris, “That’s What I Am” presents a moving and thought-provoking exploration of the insidious ways in which bullying can affect people of all ages.
  • GLSEN Safe Space Kit - Give LGBT youth a place to learn safe from bullying and harassment.
  • Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project - The GLSEN Sports Project’s mission is to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.