Every school year brings changes and challenges, but few are as formidable as the one now facing administrators: implementing the state's new anti-bullying law.
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights requires districts to have a host of new procedures and protocols in place when schools open their doors, strengthening the rules put in place in 2002 and 2007.
These include requirements that spell out the specific number of days allowed for a case to be reported, investigated and resolved. The law also expands the definitions of bullying, including the tricky issue of online or electronic harassment taking place outside of school.
More than 1,000 school administrators have gone to day-long training sessions across the state over the past month, organized by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators and the New Jersey School Boards Association.
One was held on Aug. 9 in North Brunswick, with another in Pomona Aug. 11. The state is also conducting its own training sessions with representatives from every district in September. Ultimately, every teacher and staff member will undergo some training.
For the time being, districts in September will need to submit to the state their revised policies meeting the new requirements.
Not surprisingly, the session at North Brunswick High School, which brought together 200 superintendents, principals and other administrators, was led by a panel of lawyers.
Three areas stood out as likely posing the biggest challenges to schools.
No More Waiting Game
There is no grace period for bullying claims anymore. The new law sets up a strict timetable:
- School staff must report to the principal any alleged cases that they either witness or receive reliable information about within one day,
- Witnesses must write reports within two days,
- Principal alerts parents, and initiates investigation within one day,
- Investigation completed within 10 days, and reported to superintendent two days after that,
- Superintendent must recommend for intervention or other action to school board at next meeting; findings shared with parents. Parents may request hearing.
Those deadlines contain some wiggle room, to address extenuating circumstances. But the law sets a very clear protocol that one attorney compared to the now-standard workplace harassment rules that put the onus clearly on management.
"You may have had this in policy before, but this is now state law," said Michael Kaelber, director of legal services for the school boards association.
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