EXAMPLES:
HOW LEGAL ADVICE REGARDING COMPLIANCE
MIGHT CONFLICT WITH ADVICE FROM
PROFESSIONAL ANTI-BULLYING EXPERTS

Note: If this is the first page you are viewing in the ABR segment of this website, you might want to read the overview page for the ABR segment, or the overview page for the "ABR Implementation" section, before this page.

As explained on the "Who is the Expert?" page of this website, it is important for schools to obtain legal advice from attorneys, and obtain anti-bullying advice from professional anti-bullying experts. However, sometimes there are discrepancies between the advice that schools receive from these two sources, for a number of reasons. New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (ABR) is based on evidence-based practices, so it might seem as if there should be no discrepancies between the advice given by attorneys and the advice given by anti-bullying professionals. The purpose of this page is to provide some (hypothetical, of course) examples of the types of discrepancies that can exist, to illustrate the fact that discrepancies are not only possible, but quite likely. Other pages in the "ABR" section of this website examine the consequences for student safety, and the underlying reasons for these discrepancies.

Hypothetical Example of Statutory Compliance (Legal) Advice Running Counter to Evidence-Based Advice.

Under the ABR, it is generally agreed that, if a person reporting an incident uses the word "bullying" to describe that incident, then the school staff member receiving the report must consider it a potential HIB incident and report it as such, following the reporting procedures and the timeline outlined in the ABR and their school policy for incidents of suspected HIB. If the staff member does not do so, they run the risk that the incident will be found later to have been an incident of HIB and they will be in the vulnerable position of having to justify not considering it HIB even though someone told them it was bullying.

Given this interpretation of the ABR, some school personnel have reportedly been advised to avoid using the word "bullying," so that the school will have fewer suspected HIB incidents and fewer confirmed incidents. A high number of suspected or confirmed HIB incidents creates a great deal of paperwork, uses considerable staff time, and makes the school look bad, especially when these statistics are reported through the EVVRS system and made public alongside statistics from other districts. Reporting large numbers of incidents through the EVVRS system can have negative consequences for the district; therefore, the structure of the EVVRS system gives schools an interest in not recognizing or discovering reportable incidents.

However, addressing bullying effectively requires creating an environment in which staff and students are encouraged to honestly examine and discuss school climate, and acknowledge and address bullying behavior while it is still in the incipient stages and can be stopped before it causes greater damage or escalates into a larger bullying problem.

Thus, a climate in which staff are encouraged to avoid the word "bullying"--arising from a regulatory structure in which reporting incidents can have negative consequences--runs counter to the type of honest and open discussion that is necessary to identify and address bullying behavior effectively for the protection of students.

Hypothetical Example of Evidence-Based Advice Running Counter to Statutory Compliance (Legal) Advice.

The definition of "HIB" in the ABR is different from the definition of "bullying" that has been used by researchers to develop the practices that are currently considered "evidence-based effective practices" or "best practices." Professional anti-bullying experts who provide professional development training, especially those who provide training based on pre-packaged anti-bullying programs that are national or international in scope, include instruction based on the research, or "classical," definition of bullying.

Therefore, a professional anti-bullying expert who is utilizing a training script developed for national or international purposes, and who is not familiar with the New Jersey ABR, will provide school personnel with a research-based definition of bullying that is inconsistent with the statutory definition of HIB. This could lead school personnel to fail to report some incidents that are HIB under the law and, conversely, to unnecessarily report some incidents that are not HIB. Unnecessary reporting creates more paperwork, and failures to report HIB constitute non-compliance.

For example, this expert might tell school staff that bullying involves a "power imbalance," and might fail to mention the "distinguishing characteristic" criterion. If school staff use "power imbalance" as a criterion for identifying incidents that should be reported as suspected HIB, the school is likely to have some serious compliance issues. Also, if school staff do not understand the role of the "distinguishing characteristic" in the NJ statutory definition of HIB, then programming to prevent bullying is likely to neglect the types of diversity awareness education that are necessary to discourage the kinds of bias-based incidents that do qualify as HIB under the ABR. Click here for more information about the differences between the research-based definition of "bullying," and the statutory definition of "HIB."

Click here to go back to the "Who Is the Expert?" page, and click here to go on to the ABR Implementation Gateway page for discussions of various issues that arise for schools under the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (ABR).