A coalition of advocates has called on the NJ State Board of Education (SBOE) to strengthen proposed rules for NJ’s landmark Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (ABR). The ABR, enacted in 2010, prohibits harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) in NJ’s public schools.
The Coalition for Effective ABR, made up of children’s and human rights organizations and other supporters and including Education Law Center, believes all students must be protected while in school, and therefore the HIB law must do all it can to promote a safe and healthy school environment.
- Improving critical definitions of terms used in the regulations to ensure clarity;
- Adding procedural protections to the preliminary HIB determination process;
- Preparing state guidance for handling sensitive information on a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and other matters;
- Mandating remedial action for students and staff who commit HIB;
- Extending the time to appeal the determination in a HIB case from 45 to 90 days;
- Coordinating the roles of the school Anti-Bullying Coordinator and the Affirmative Action Officer;
- Enhancing the role of the school safety/climate team and the role of parents on these teams;
- Detailing the written notice and student records that must be provided to parents, consistent with the ABR and guidance on handling confidential and sensitive information;
- Establishing a robust complaint investigation process; and
- Seeking a regular annual appropriation for the Bullying Prevention Fund.
While acknowledging that “the law is not perfect,” NJ Coalition director Stuart Green reminded the SBOE that the ABR “has done a good job in empowering vulnerable children and families, especially those with minority status, properly and powerfully raising their expectations for what school should do to protect and support their children.”
Dr. Green emphasized the need for an ongoing advisory process, now that the tenure of the State’s Anti-Bullying Task Force (ABTF) has expired, and specifically recommended that the process incorporate a much larger voice for community-based advocates.
“We are here to help,” Dr. Green said in his testimony, adding, “let us.”
The consequences of not getting the law right was highlighted by the testimony of Dr. Paula Rodriguez Rust of the Alliance for Comprehensive & Effective Strategies for Bullying Prevention and testimony presented by Carol Watchler of the Central New Jersey Chapter of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. Both testified about the impact of the ABR on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students who have not yet come out to their parents because of the risk of serious abuse, but who may be “outed” by filing a HIB complaint. Based on this testimony, the Coalition joined the ABTF in “asking the DOE [NJ Department of Education] to issue guidance to schools on how to implement the ABR in ways that will protect, rather than endanger, LGBT students.”
Elizabeth Athos, ELC senior attorney, recommended that the SBOE and the Commissioner of Education seek $3 million a year for the Bullying Prevention Fund, and stated in testimony she presented on behalf of ELC and the Coalition: “We cannot stress enough the importance of adequate funding for school districts to effectively implement the ABR.”
A complete list of Coalition for Effective ABR members, as well as all fifteen endorsing organizations, is included in the Coalition’s testimony.
The SBOE will continue to accept written comments on the HIB regulations until November 5, 2016. Those comments can be submitted online or by writing to Assistant Commissioner Susan Martz, New Jersey Department of Education, P.O. Box 500, Trenton, NJ 08625.
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