I received a call from a mother of a child who has been bullied. She was unaware of the school’s obligations in dealing with such behavior. New Jersey was a national leader in 2002 by being one of the first states to enact anti-bullying legislation. On January 5, 2011, Governor Christie signed the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act which strengthened New Jersey’s original anti-bullying law. Besides expanding the definition of bullying, the Act also put more responsibility on the schools in dealing with such incidents and reporting information on school websites. In fact, each school is required to designate an anti-bullying specialist to deal with all bullying incidents.
The new law includes cyber-bullying which is a relatively new issue. Bullying is also defined to include incidents that occur off school grounds. Specifically, it is now defined 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.”
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights also provides specific procedures that schools must follow in reporting and processing each incident. Specifically, all school employees are required to report all incidents of bullying the same day with a written report sent to the Principal within two days. The parents of all students involved must be informed and an investigation must be conducted by the designated anti-bullying specialist. There is even a time limit for the designated school specialist to conclude his or her investigation.
As far as public information, the Bill covers that, as well. The law requires the Department of Education to grade each school and each district based on required reporting of incidents. The school district is required to post this grade on its website. Knowledge is crucial. I encourage all parents to check their district’s website for their report card on bullying incidents. Parents and children should know that the law does not tolerate bullying and schools shouldn’t either.