ELC Testimony to State Anti-bullying Task Force Calls for Increased State Resources and Oversight to Improve School Climate

Education Law Center has submitted testimony to the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force urging the state to underscore its commitment to safe schools and to protecting students by increasing dedicated resources to, and improving oversight on, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (ABR).

ELC strongly recommends that the state reexamine the full costs of creating safe and healthy school climates in New Jersey schools. ELC’s testimony noted that the costs for the required school district positions of Anti-Bullying Specialist and Anti-Bullying Coordinator were not reflected as stand-alone positions in the models that formed the basis for the current School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). While the duties are often handled by a school counselor or other funded staff position, the effectiveness of this model, especially in a time of heavy counseling demands, has not been examined.

ELC also recommends that state funding be provided for increased professional development in the area of social emotional learning, as well as increased ratios of counselors and social workers to address the needs of both students who bully and those who are targeted by bullies.

Other resource needs identified by ELC include annual appropriations for the Bullying Prevention Fund, the School Climate State Coordinator, and New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) capacity to oversee ABR implementation.

“The ABR Amendments of 2022 created the position of School Climate State Coordinator to serve as a resource for parents, students, and educators and to produce an annual report to the Commissioner of Education, the State Board of Education, and the Legislature with specific recommendations on school climate best practices and procedures,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney for Educational Equity. “But the role and responsibilities of that Coordinator are virtually invisible on the NJDOE’s website.”

“The only reference to the Coordinator is a generic email address that also serves as the email for the Office of Student Support Services, with no information about the critical functions that the Coordinator is intended to fulfill,” Ms. Athos added.

ELC’s testimony further noted the need for the NJDOE to provide information on the Department’s website about the formal protocol required by the ABR for investigation of complaints by the County Offices of Education, as well as an easily accessible complaint form that parents can use to bring ABR noncompliance to the state’s attention.

The New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force, whose work was delayed by the pandemic, was charged by a 2019 law with examining the ABR’s impact and making recommendations for improving the way that harassment, intimidation, and bullying is addressed in schools. The Task Force held two public hearings this fall and is expected to issue a report to the Governor and the Legislature by the end of the year.

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