Two local elected officials have announced that they will work with the Christie administration to restore the anti-bullying law that was struck down on Friday when a little-known state panel ruled that it imposes an unfunded mandate on public school districts.
In a 7-2 ruling on Friday, the Council of Local Mandates struck down the law as an unfunded mandate. The council's ruling will take affect 60 days after its formal order is released.
Assemblyman John F. McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey — both of the 27th District which covers parts of Essex and Morris counties — released a statement on Saturday evening pledging to work in a bipartisan manner with other lawmakers and the Christie administration to reinstate the 'Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.'
Both Jasey and McKeon were prime sponsors of the measure (A-3466) which was signed into law in September 2011. The law went into effect this past September, prompting some school superintendents to complain that the law was imposing new training and reporting costs on the districts at a time of budgetary constraints. In addition, South Orange-Maplewood Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Osborne remarked at one Board of Education meeting that, while he agreed with the "intent" of the law, he found that the law "overreaches," in terms of standards it imposes for reporting incidents.
In a joint statement, McKeon and Jasey addressed the issue at hand — the costs of implementing the law — saying they would "review if the necessary funding could be made available from the 'Bullying Prevention Fund' established in the Department by the legislation or explore additional funding alternatives."
However, they also said that they planned "to examine closely if the measure can be implemented by using existing resources as argued by the state Department of Education in its petition to the Council of Local Mandates."
McKeon and Jasey are both actively involved in education matters, attending a charter reform rally earlier this month and supporting charter reform bills currently in the legislature. Jasey is Vice Chair of the Assembly's Education Committee. McKeon was also the lead sponsor of an earlier law (A-1874) that requires schools to adopt polices prohibiting the harassment, intimidation, or bullying of students on school property, at a school function or on a school bus. In 2007, this legislation was updated by the New Jersey Legislature to include cyber-bullying and enacted into law (A-3803).
In stating their commitment to amend the law, McKeon and Jasey voiced their continued support of its core tenets. They also made it clear that they disagreed with the Council's ruling:
The 'Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights' strengthens standards for the prevention, reporting, investigating and responding to incidents of bullying. It "requires" as opposed to "encourages" school districts to establish bullying prevention programs and to form a school safety team in each school to foster and maintain a positive environment. It also requires all teachers, administrators and school board members to complete anti-bullying training. The measure additionally requires the superintendent of schools in each district to appoint a district anti-bullying coordinator.
In its January 27 ruling, the Council on Local Mandates said the new law is an unfunded mandate in that it requires school districts to provide training and personnel associated with its implementation. The Star Ledger reported that the decision was in response to a complaint filed with the council by the Allamuchy School District in Warren County, which argued the anti-bullying law creates extra costs for districts but does not provide funding to pay for them. The Allamuchy district, which has 427 students, said the law would cost it $6,000 this year alone for training, plus more in the future. The state Department of Education has said the law is not an unfunded mandate. In a brief filed with the council, the DOE argued the measure is a revision of an earlier law and that districts can meet their requirements without additional costs.