by Marie Blistan, NJEA Vice President
before the New Jersey State Board of Education
on Proposed Amendments to Programs to Support Student DevelopmentSeptember 7, 2016
My name is Marie Blistan, proud NJEA vice president and a 30-year special education teacher from Gloucester County.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to all of you about the proposed regulatory changes in the anti-bullying law.
NJEA believes that schools should be safe and inclusive environments for all. As such, student harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) should never be tolerated.
We recognize that the proposed amendments to N.J.A.C. 6A:16, Programs to Support Student Development, intend to clarify the current rules implemented by the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, however, further safeguards for our students must be addressed.
Under the currently proposed amendment to NJAC 6A:16-7.7, school districts would be permitted to include a provision in their HIB policies for a preliminary determination process. In this provision, the administrator—in consultation with the anti-bullying specialist—would determine if a reported incident meets the criteria for HIB prior to initiating an investigation. This proposed amendment, however, does not include any requirement for documentation during the determination process. In order to preserve the ability of this law to protect our most vulnerable students, it is important that this determination process be documented so that there is accountability and transparency.
Additionally, the law applies to bias-based bullying, in other words, bullying based on characteristics such as race, disability, religion, and sexual orientation. As such, the law is intended to protect students against anti-LGBT bullying. Therefore, when handling incidents of alleged of HIB, schools must be mindful to safeguard a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. In every circumstance, this information should be considered confidential. Any potential of outing a student during the reporting, parental notification or investigative process could deter lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students from reporting incidents of HIB.
For this law to be effective, it is critical that schools protect the welfare of all of our students and make sure they feel comfortable reporting acts of HIB. I urge you to take the necessary steps in order to ensure our most vulnerable students are included in that protection.