As students, teachers and administrators alike shuffle through hallways on the first day of school Wednesday, they’ll have to be concerned with more than just new lunchboxes and lesson plans; they’ll have to comply with a new, stricter anti-bullying law passed in January that goes into effect immediately.
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, signed by Gov. Chris Christie in January, sets even stricter parameters for reporting and responding to bullying incidents among students – both on and off school grounds, and via electronic means.
Bloomfield High School Principal Chris Jennings said that while it’s important to send a message that bullying is unacceptable, the legislation “goes too far.”
“It makes the school responsible for events that are clearly outside our jurisdiction; but that’s the law, and we’ll do our best to comply with it,” Jennings said. “The fear is that it’s just an overwhelming onslaught of paperwork.”
While most schools, including those in Bloomfield, already had a bullying and harassment policy in place, the new law sets stricter parameters and a more rigid time frame for how incidents must be handled.
Under the new law:
- All acts of harassment – on or off school grounds – must be reported on the same day the act was witnessed or reported to an employee, and the principal must report it to parents.
- A written report must be provided within two days of the incident, and an investigation must be completed 10 days after that.
- Incidents must be reported to the superintendent within two days of a completed incident report. Employees who fail to act on a report of an incident can face discipline.
Additionally, teachers and administrators must go through additional anti-bullying training, something that had already been a practice in Bloomfield, said Superintendent Jason Bing, a supporter of the new law. Also, a district-wide bullying officer to handle complaints must be appointed. At the high school, an anti-bullying team made up of teachers and administrators has been set up.
“The gist of the law is, everybody is responsible for stopping bullying. I think for most schools, it’ll be a pretty smooth transition,” Bing said of implementing the new law. “Most schools have been proactive. Bullying isn’t a new issue and most schools realize it’s been getting worse due to the advent of technology.”
Bloomfield resident Alexandra Smith, 31, has two elementary school children in the district.
She agrees with the law and thinks anti-bullying policies should be strict; however, she also said there is a “fine line” in dealing with things that happen outside of school.
Depending on the incident, she said, ““I don’t necessarily think that everything that happens (out of school) should be brought to the principal; I think the parents should deal with it first.”
Bloomfield resident Maria Rivas, 35, who also has two children in the district, supports the law but wonders exactly how bullying will be defined.
“There is a fine line between just going through the growing pains and that constant harassment,” Rivas said. “Is this bullying, or is this what we all went through as kids?”
Jennings said the hope is to deal with high school harassment incidents – especially cyber bullying – through education.
He also said individual incidents among students – mutual arguments, cursing, even a fight – must be dealt with but may not alone constitute bullying.
“Bullying episodes are typically prolonged, repeated events where an individual or a small group has lost power to another person or another group,” Jennings said.