The state’s Anti-Bullying Task Force has issued its final report, stating that the number of incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying has declined in New Jersey’s public schools, but there is still more work ahead, as well as a need for additional funding.
The seven-member panel was established in March 2012 as part of an amendment to New Jersey’s landmark “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act,”or ABR. The task force was created to examine the implementation of the ABR and provide guidance to school districts; issue draft regulations and recommendations; and report annually for three years.
The ABR took effect in the fall of 2011, and ushered in strict requirements for schools’ investigating and handling of bullying complaints. It also called for anti-bullying training and programs, and brought the term HIB – harassment, intimidation and bullying – into the lexicon in schools. Under the law, the number of confirmed incidents reported in 2011-2012 was 12,024, and dropped to 6,214 in 2014-2015.
“Although the number of incidents has declined over the past three years, 6,214 incidents of HIB is still too many,” the task force report stated. “There is clearly more work to do and funds are needed to support the effort.”
The smallest decline in the number of confirmed incidents came between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, from 6,515 to 6,214, suggesting the number of HIB cases has “plateaued.” That task force warned that incidents could begin to rise again in schools without continued focus on anti-bullying efforts.
“In order to sustain the progress made thus far,” the task force said, districts must continue to focus on improving school climate and creating a “culture of inclusivity and collaboration” through school safety and school climate teams. The task force also urged the Legislature to annually appropriate funding for the bullying Prevention Fund at the “level equivalent to need.” In past years, funding requests of between $5 million and $9 million have been submitted to the state Department of Education.
The task force was chaired by New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association Executive Director Patricia Wright.
Specific recommendations of the task force include:
- The N.J. Department of Education should issue formal guidance to assist education practitioners to understand the significance of “power imbalance” in HIB.
- Practitioners should recognize that the specified list of characteristics included in the ABR is not exclusive, and the use of “power imbalance” should be incorporated to identify a broader range of potential characteristics.
- School districts should adopt policies that include language surrounding the principal’s role in initiating an investigation by including language recommended by the task force, and remove and avoid use of the word “discretion.”
- Professional learning opportunities that target hazing and the role that sports play in a school’s climate and culture should be developed.
- The Secretary of Higher Education should facilitate a conversation among all institutions of higher education to share best practices in the implementation of ABR.
Read the full 262-page report, including additional recommendations athttp://staging.njsba.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/AnnualReport16.pdf