Dr. Rodriguez Rust is an anti-bullying expert, not an attorney. Schools should seek advice on recommended practices for addressing bullying from an anti-bullying expert, i.e., a person with a professional degree in a field of behavioral science, e.g., social work, sociology, or psychology, and should seek legal advice from an attorney. The two sources of advice must be merged to ensure legal compliance as well as effective bullying prevention. Anti-bullying experts should not provide legal advice, and attorneys should not provide advice on recommended strategies for bullying prevention and response. No information about the law provided in this website constitutes legal advice, and no guarantee is offered with regard to information about the law provided on this website.

Any incident in which one student bullies, harasses, or intimidates another might be covered under any one of several segments of State and Federal law. With respect to New Jersey State law, an incident might invoke educational law (Title 18A), civil law (Title 10), and/or criminal law (Title 2C).

Educational law applies specifically to schools, and educational law includes the "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights," which governs a school's responsibilities vis-a-vis an incident of bullying if the target/victim of the incident is a student at the school and the incident meets certain criteria depending upon whether the incident occurred on or off school grounds.

Civil law is the branch of law that provides people with civil rights. Individuals might have causes of action to sue other individuals or entities that violate their civil rights. Civil rights law includes the NJ Law Against Discrimination, which covers places of public accomodation, including schools. An incident of bullying in a school might also be a violation of a student's civil right to equal access to education in the school, if that incident impaired the student's access to education in a discriminatory manner. Victims of bias crimes who sustain injury to person or property might also have a cause of action against the person(s) who committed the offense.

Criminal law involves offenses for which individuals would be prosecuted, e.g., assault, or theft. If an incident that might be HIB under New Jersey educational law (specifically, the ABR) is also a crime, then law enforcement should be notified. The Memorandum Of Agreement governs the circumstances under which schools may or must notify law enforcement, as well as other aspects of cooperation between education and law enforcement.

Because the ABR is a relatively new law, school personnel might have a tendency to focus narrowly on the question of whether an incident meets the criteria for HIB. It is important to remember, however, to consider whether the incident also violates civil rights or criminal law. If, for example, a physical assault occurs on school grounds, the incident might be HIB, but the fact that it might also be a crime is a matter of equal importance. If a sexual assault or sexual harassment occurs on school grounds, then the incident might be HIB, but even more importantly, the incident might also invoke Title IX and sexual harassment procedures.