OVERVIEW OF
"ANTI-BULLYING BILL OF RIGHTS"
FACTS AND ISSUES

New Jersey's "anti-bullying law" is part of Title 18A in the New Jersey statutes, and applies specifically to New Jersey public schools. This law was strengthened effective September, 2011, and the law is now known as the "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights," sometimes abbreviated "ABR" or "ABBOR."

This law establishes requirements for schools and school districts with regard to the prevention, reporting, investigation, and remediation of incidents that meet the statutory definition of "Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying." It also requires schools to adopt anti-bullying policies, develop and maintain a positive school climate designed to discourage bullying, and establish certain positions and structures, e.g., a "School Safety Team" in each school. As such, the law focuses primarily on school policies, procedures, and programming. It is important to understand that this law does not create a new crime of "bullying," nor does it directly regulate students, parents, or any other social institutions other than schools; the law regulates schools. In compliance with the law, schools must establish policies that regulate student behavior and staff members' responses to that behavior, and these regulations might result in consequences for staff members and students who do not comply with school policy and codes of conduct, but the ABR itself applies to the schools.

There are a number of issues that have been raised with respect to the ABR. In outlining these issues, I do not intend to criticize those who designed the law; it is always easier to criticize the work of others, especially with the benefit of hindsight, than it is to be the one who took the initiative to do something in the first place. The law is something, and it has encouraged schools that were not taking bullying seriously before to do so. For the safety and well-being of our children, we should do our best to understand the law and implement it in ways that are as positive and effective as possible.

There are some obvious issues. For example, the lack of funding, the work overload, the role conflict for school counselors who do double-duty as Anti-Bullying Specialists, etc., are issues that are widely recognized among school personnel and other interested persons in New Jersey. These issues are serious, undeniable, and they are being discussed extensively elsewhere. There is no need for me to review those issues here. My focus here will be on a different set of issues that pertain to the way the law is being implemented; these issues are largely avoidable without any additional work or effort, and my goal here is to outline these issues and provide strategies for avoiding some unnecessary pitfalls that can endanger students.

As a professional development provider and consultant with experience working with schools in New Jersey since long before the Sept. 2011 amendments to the law, I have some very specific concerns about the implementation of the ABR. I have seen some students become less safe, and more fearful and vulnerable, since 2011, because of some of the strategies that are being used to implement the law. Although I am not an attorney or a legislator, I feel very confident in saying that this outcome is not in keeping with the intent or the spirit of the law; the law was intended to make schools safer, and to protect students against bullying, not to further endanger students.

Therefore, the issues that I will address in this subsection of my website include:

The Anti-Bullying Task Force has issued its 2014 Annual Report. Click here to download that report