New Jersey introduced new legislation this school year that radically changes the way teachers, administrators and all school faculty members handle bullying in schools.
At its most recent board meeting, the West Morris Regional School District presented its strategy and procedures of how to enact the new rules and what they mean to the school community as a whole.
“We’re all learning this together,” said David Leigh, the district’s anti-bullying coordinator. “(New Jersey’s) anti-bullying laws are the most aggressive in the nation. The intent of the law is admirable, but on a practical level, it’s going to be tough to implement.”
Leigh explained that much of the new Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) law was comparable to workplace standards in its intensity. New aspects of the legislation include bullying that doesn’t actually happen on school grounds, or between students of the same school or town, that would still need to be handled by administrators from the involved students’ place of education.
The learning process for school faculty members is primarily based on the differences between what falls under HIB and what does not, Leigh said.
“Is there a target–whether it’s a person or group of people; is there an imbalance of power, and does the action cause physical or emotional harm,” Leigh said. “That’s what we need to understand and keep any eye out for.”
Actions under HIB are categorized as physical, verbal, social or relational, and cyber–anything taking place via text message or Internet use, Leigh said.
After the components of a possible HIB violation are surveyed, it is up to the school administration to formalize a complaint or not, if it feels the action was an act of bullying.
If a report is made about a possible violation of HIB rules by the principal of the school, it is then sent up to the Board of Education for review. The board would then have to make a decision on next steps within 10 days of the report, even if it means holding a special meeting prior to its regularly scheduled meeting.
If the board votes to move forward and take action on a particular incident, an investigation would then be launched. Administrators would be responsible for taking statements and examining the facts of a situation.
If administrators see repeat instances from the same person or group of people or if repercussions have not put a stop to violations of the HIB rules, law enforcement may then step in and take over, Leigh said.
“Attorneys are expecting lawsuits to come from this,” Leigh said. “There will likely be a lot of legal ramifications under these new rules.”
Each school in the regional district has created a school safety team consisting of faculty members that look at the overall climate in the building and take actions of necessary, Leigh said.
Freshman in the regional school district will be taking four anti-bullying sessions during their health class. Sophomores will attend a class-wide assembly. Juniors are presented with a two-day anti-bullying curriculum, and seniors will work with freshmen on ways to create a more tolerant environment.
The anti-bullying laws affect all public and charter schools in New Jersey, but do not have an impact on private schools.
Long Valley Patch recently asked its readers what they thought of bullying in our local schools. To vote in that poll and weigh in with your thoughts,