A new school year brings the first year Hillsborough will operate under the state's new anti-bullying legislation, with the district's policy following the anti bullying law.
The New Jersey anti-bullying law, to the applauds of many, is currently seen as the toughest in the country.
The bill gained momentum after the tragic suicide of Rutgers student , who jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly streamed a romantic encounter between him and another man on the internet.
The new law aims to protect children from harassment that would interfere with their education.
As part of the long list of provisions, teachers, administrators and other staff must undergo suicide prevention training with regards to harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
Each school must establish an anti-bullying specialist, and a “safety team” which will work to investigate complaints, maintain a positive school environment, and implement programs mandated by the law. The district must appoint an anti-bullying coordinator to strengthen anti-bullying policies and oversee the specialists in each school.
Upon learning of a bullying incident, school staff must report it in writing to the principal within one day, with a full investigation to follow in the next ten days. This includes incidents that occur off school grounds, such as cyber-bullying or charged text messages. Administrators who fail to take action after becoming aware of a problem are subject to discipline.
Although legislators have said enacting the bill will not create a need for additional staffing or funding, the New Jersey School Board Association (NJSBA) said it may require additional compensation doled out to union members. Those costs are currently unknown.
Under the anti-bullying bill, school superintendents must report all of the incidents that occurred within the past six months in a public hearing, held twice a year. Those reports are provided to the state education department, which will include them in online "school report cards."
Prior to approving its policy, the district solicited parent input using a web survey. Though it's had an anti-bullying policy since 2002, the new law updates several definitions and the proceedures for handling incidents.
It will require responses to incidents of bullying that occur off school grounds, such as on a school bus or school-sponsored function. The legislation defines harassment, intimidation and bullying to include any harassing gesture, whether made verbally, physically or through electronic means.
The policy will establish a time line for bullying complaints and action, making it hard for an existing staff member to handle the recording and reporting duties. The Board of Education has discussed hiring an additional staff member as the anti-bullying coordinator, though no one has been hired yet.
In the several of the district's elementary and intermediate schools, existing school psychologists have been appointed as anti-bullying specialists. While positions for the other schools have been created, the Board of Education has not yet appointed coordinators to those slots.
In addition, the district's policy includes an appeals process for bullying complaints.