On March 27, Gov. Chris Christie signed S-1789¸ which amends the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act and appropriates $1 million for a Bullying Prevention Fund. S-1789 was drafted when the state Council on Local Mandates struck down the anti-bulling law signed in January 2011. The council found that the law imposed unfunded mandates on local school districts.
To qualify for a grant from the Bullying Prevention Fund, a district must demonstrate that it has explored all bullying prevention programs and approaches that are available at no cost.
The bill also establishes a seven-member Anti-Bullying Task Force. The task force will be composed of individuals with legal, policy, educational, social, or psychological expertise in bullying in public schools. However, task force recommendations will not have the force of law behind them, and the Commissioner of Education is not required to implement them.
While NJEA was pleased that the Legislature acted quickly to correct the issues raised by the Council on Local Mandates, it raised concerns that were not addressed in S-1789:
- The scope of the school crisis team outlined in the law ought to be expanded.
- Training should be made available to all staff so they will have the tools necessary to effectively deal with incidences of bullying.
- The anti-bullying specialist should be a certified position and consideration should be given to those trained professionals who have specialized knowledge, background and expertise in dealing with bullying.
When the proper resources are provided to comply with the law, districts can keep teachers teaching in the classroom, counselors doing their job of counseling troubled youth, and bullying specialists working with the community and the N.J. Department of Education to comply with the law, NJEA contended.
S-1789 was sponsored by Sens. Diane Allen, R-Burlington; Barbara Buono, D-Union, and Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. Its Assembly companion, A-1784, was sponsored by Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen; Mary Pat Angelini, R-Monmouth; Patrick Diegnan, D-Union; John McKeon, D-Morris; and Mila Jasey, D-Essex.