Bullying is a serious problem facing school-aged children. In recent years, there has been increasing attention and awareness directed toward the issue of bullying in schools.
In September 2011, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights took effect. The law requires schools to prevent, report, investigate, and respond to bullying. The law also requires training for teachers, school staff, and school board members. School districts must have district anti-bullying coordinators, school anti-bullying specialists, and school safety teams (which includes a parent of a student). Every year, school districts must report bullying incidents to the New Jersey Department of Education (NJ DOE). The NJ DOE gives each school district and each school in the district a grade on how the school district or school is carrying out the requirements of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. School districts are required to post the report and the grade their schools have received on their website.
What is bullying?
Under NJ law, bullying is any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication that is reasonably perceived as being motivated by either an actual or perceived characteristic, such as:
In order to be bullying, the conduct must:
Bullying can be a series of incidents or a single incident. Students are not the only people who can bully others. School officials, staff, and teachers can also commit acts of bullying.
The bullying definition is confusing. What does it mean?
A child who is being bullied is the target of unwanted or uninvited aggression by a person who has a desire to hurt someone. It is one-sided. A child being bullied often has no ability to make it stop. This is not the same thing as conflict. Conflict usually involves two or more people who are equally engaged in the behavior and have the ability to make it stop. A school must still address this conduct but will follow the policies and rules in the student code of conduct.
Does my child have to be physically harmed?
No, your child does not have to be physically harmed. Bullying does not have to be a physical act such as hitting, kicking, etc. It could involve name calling, teasing, threats, spreading rumors, breaking up friendships and texting.
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that occurs by using electronic devices like cell phones, computers, iPads, and other types of electronic devices. Sadly, cyberbullying is a common form of bullying impacting school-aged children. It can take many forms. Examples of cyberbullying include inappropriate or unwanted text messages; showing images or video of someone without their permission online; inappropriate use of social media; and filling an email inbox with disgusting images, hurtful emails, or spam. Often, but not always, cyberbullying involves using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and other forms of social networking. Cyberbullying can happen at any time and cause a person to be harmed anywhere they are whether they are at home or in their community. New Jersey student are protected from cyberbullying under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.
Does bullying have to take place at school?
No. Bullying can take place on school property or at any school-sponsored function, on a school bus, or in some situations off school grounds. See Cyber-bulling in the box above.
My child attends a charter school. Does the law apply to her?
Yes, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights applies to charter schools. If your child attends a charter school, the charter school must comply with the same rules and requirements.
I think my child is being bullied. What should I do?
Your child’s school is required to have a bullying policy. It should be available online, and copies should be given to parents every year. You should review the policy. The policy should include a procedure for reporting a bullying incident. You may verbally report bullying, but you should also send a letter. Your letter should include specific details about the bullying incident. You should also state when you reported the bullying and the name of the person you told about the bullying. Also include your concerns and any specific actions you want the school to take. Make sure to keep a copy of the letter.
I have told the school my child is being bullied. What do they have to do?
Within one day of getting a verbal report about an incident of bullying, the school must investigate that incident. The school’s anti-bullying specialist must conduct the investigation. An anti-bullying specialist is the school staff person responsible for preventing, identifying, and responding to incidents of bullying in the school. He or she may be the guidance counselor, school psychologist, or another specially trained school staff member.
Is the school allowed to decide no investigation is needed?
Before starting an investigation, a school district can decide whether the complaint, assuming all the facts are true, falls within the protection of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. The school district policy must include a procedure for how a school makes this decision. A parent who disagrees has the right to file an appeal with the school district’s board of education and the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Controversies and Disputes.
My child’s school is investigating. What happens next?
The investigation should be completed as soon as possible, and no later than 10 days from the day the bullying was reported in writing. Within two days of the investigation’s completion, the results must be reported to the superintendent. The superintendent will decide what action to take. Examples of possible action that could be taken include:
The results of the investigation must be reported to the Board of Education (Board) no later than the date of the next Board meeting following the completion of the investigation. Information on action taken or recommended by the superintendent must also be reported to the Board. At the next Board meeting, the Board must issue a written decision, agreeing with, rejecting, or changing the superintendent’s decision.
How will I know the results of the investigation?
Parents or guardians of students who are involved in the incident are entitled to receive information about the investigation. The information should be provided in writing within five school days of when the investigation is reported to the Board and should include:
Parents may request a hearing before the Board. Parents must make this request within 60 days of receiving the written information about the investigation. The hearing must be held within 10 business days of the request. Parents may want to request a hearing if they do not agree with the results of the investigation or actions that will be taken. The Board may hear from the school’s anti-bullying specialist about the incident, the discipline or services that the specialist recommends, or programs that will be started.
What can I do if I do not agree with the Board of Education’s decision?
A parent may appeal the Board’s decision to the Commissioner of Education no later than 90 days after the Board issues its decision. For more information on how to file an appeal to the Commissioner of Education, see Frequently Asked Questions: Controversies and Disputes.
Schools may also be held liable under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination if they knew or should have known about the bullying but failed to take reasonable action to address it. Complaints can be made to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) within 180 days of the occurrence of a bullying incident. See How to File a Complaint (from the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights) for more information. A complaint can also be filed in New Jersey Superior Court within two years of the occurrence.
If you have any questions about the information in this article or think that your rights or your child’s rights have been violated, contact LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888- 576-5529). You may also apply for help online. If you are not eligible for assistance from Legal Services, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.
This information last reviewed: Aug 27, 2018