As New Jersey’s new anti-bullying takes effect, local school administrators and board members express qualms
On September 1, 2011, New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights took effect, reports the New York Times. While many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates. It requires that all public schools adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.
Each school must designate an anti-bullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an anti-bullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its website. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses. “I think this has gone well overboard,” said Richard G. Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. “Now we have to police the community 24 hours a day. Where are the people and the resources to do this?”
In most cases, schools are tapping guidance counselors and social workers as the new antibullying specialists, raising questions of whether they have the time or experience to look into every complaint of harassment or intimidation and write the detailed reports required. Some administrators are also worried that making schools legally responsible for bullying on a wider scale will lead to more complaints and open the door to lawsuits from students and parents dissatisfied with the outcome. However, proponents of the law contend that schools need to do more as conflicts spread from cafeterias and corridors to social media sites, magnifying the effects and making them much harder to shut down.
The law also requires districts to appoint a safety team at each school, made up of teachers, staff members and parents, to review complaints. It orders principals to begin an investigation within one school day of a bullying episode, and superintendents to provide reports to Trenton twice a year detailing all episodes. Statewide, there were 2,846 such reports in 2008-9, the most recent year for which a total was available.
Even districts that have long made anti-bullying programs a priority are preparing to step up their efforts, in response to the greater reporting demands. “This gives a definite timeline,” the Westfield superintendent, Margaret Dolan, said, noting the new one-day requirement. But Dr. Dolan cautioned that an unintended consequence of the new law could be that students, or their parents, will find it easier to label minor squabbles bullying than to find ways to work out their differences.
Source: New York Times, 8/30/11, By Winnie Hu
[Editor's Note: The New Jersey School Boards Association provides extensive training and resources on the new anti-bullying requirements, including model policies, to school boards. NJSBA's back-to-school press release on the law is available here.
In January 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Star-Ledger reporting Governor Christie had signed the state’s latest anti-bullying legislation into law, which advocates tout as the toughest in the nation. Garden State Equality Chairman Steven Goldstein said, “Gov. Christie signed a law that is so different and so much better than anti-bullying laws that exist elsewhere across the country, that it’s stunning.” The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” is intended to eliminate loopholes in the state’s first anti-bullying law, enacted in 2002, that encouraged school districts to set up programs to combat bullying but did not mandate it.
To see how New Jersey's anti-bullying law compares to those of other states, check out NSBA's anti-bullying statute chart.]