In 2011, New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was enacted. The law, which strengthened existing legislation, was designed to combat harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) in schools through training, instruction and a detailed reporting procedure for bullying incidents.

The fifth anniversary of the passage of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights is an occasion to look back on where we’ve been and where we are going in addressing HIB.

In my own district, the number of bullying incidents has declined significantly over the past few years; we believe that the ongoing education of students about HIB has been key to this reduction.

That’s not to say that bullying has disappeared. It is still true that kids sometimes do things that are cruel and dumb. We realize this means that we have to persist in teaching all schoolchildren that harrassment cannot be tolerated.

Parents still struggle with the legal definition of bullying in spite of our efforts to educate them about the law. We have also noticed there is an inclination for some parents to want to “throw the book” at offending students, asking for the offenders to be suspended, expelled or even jailed. We have had several board-level appeal hearings for parents of both parties – the offenders and the victims. Again, we believe our disciplinary policies are sound and just – and parents, like everyone, need to be educated on the topic. We will continue our efforts in this area.

One of the continuing issues is the cost of implementing this law.

Districts and schools are required to have designated anti-bullying specialists. In our schools, our guidance counselors primarily serve in those positions. But I know of other districts that needed to hire additional staff members or pay stipends to existing staff members to handle those duties.

It can take a significant amount of staff time and paperwork to comply with the anti-bullying law. Counselors, principals, the district anti-bullying coordinator, the superintendent and perhaps other staff members must all devote time to the processes and paperwork required by the law. That means they don’t have time for other important duties.

At the same time, state reimbursements for all the staff time and efforts typically don’t  come close to covering the implementation costs. We would like to see additional state reimbursement for these important programs.

Looking ahead, this issue of School Leader provides some guidance through an article by a school attorney on how the anti-bullying law might be improved.

We are proud that New Jersey has been a national leader in making schools safe for all children. Despite our progress, there is still much work to be done to eliminate HIB in our schools. We urge all districts to rededicate themselves to that task.