When a student reports being bullied, a number of things are supposed to happen – according to the updated manual of bullying and harassment the Bayonne School District adopted in October.
The principal in the school where the alleged incident occurred calls the district affirmative action officer and then conducts a preliminary investigation to determine if there is any creditable evidence to support the charge.
In New Jersey, since 1993, school districts have been required to implement an anti-bullying policy and distribute them to parents. New Jersey law requires that the school post the anti-bullying policy on its Web site.
“This has become a very large issue.” – School Board President Will Lawson
“This has become a very large issue,” Lawson said. “We have a professional service that advises us on the changes we need to make. While on some policies, the members of the board can review and make suggestions. This is one of those issues that involved changing laws that we need to keep up with.”
According to the state Department of Education, school management authorities are responsible for dealing with bullying in school. Each school is required to have in place a policy that includes specific measures to deal with bullying behavior within the framework of an overall school “Code of Behavior and Discipline.”
Although the state Department of Education has had guidelines in place since 1993, updated manuals deal with new technologies that include text bullying, cyber-bullying, and homophobic bullying.
School bullying, intimidation, and harassment can cause serious harm, state officials contend. Children who have suffered from repeated acts of bullying and harassment become afraid to go to school. In some rare cases, harassment has led to suicide and violence.
According to the Bayonne manual, the school principal may even call the police if he or she believes there is potential for a criminal act.
“Harassment, intimidation, or bullying can mean any gesture – written, verbal, or physical act – or any electronic communication that takes place on school property, at any school sponsored function, or on a school bus, that targets another person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, or a mental, physical, or sensory disability,” according to the manual. “This would include acts that have the effect of harming in public or damaging a pupil’s property, or placing a pupil in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person. Any act that insults or demeans a pupil or group in such a way as to cause substantial disruption in the orderly operation of the school.”
Who reports the problem doesn’t matter: it could be the alleged victim, a fellow student, a school employee, a parent, or a teacher. The school can learn of the problem from other sources, too, such as someone who witnessed the acts, an anonymous letter or telephone call, something seen on a Web site or from an email, or even evidence found during a routine inspection of a locker.
The principal is prohibited from disclosing who the alleged victim or culprit is except as part of an incident report to the superintendent of schools.
But if a preliminary investigation shows evidence that harassment is underway, the principal will contact the parents, legal guardians, and others involved to begin a more intensive investigation, as well as to take steps to keep it from happening again or to prevent retaliation in what could amount to an escalating cycle of harassment and even potential violence.
If this investigation determines harassment has occurred, the school administrative staff will order corrective action, including steps tailored to the specific situation. This could include counseling, warnings, even disciplinary action.
Any person found guilty of harassment by the principal, or any alleged victim dissatisfied by the principal’s determination, can appeal to the superintendent of schools. If they are still not satisfied, the person may appeal to the School Board or even the Federal Office of Civil Rights.
The rules prohibit active or passive support for acts of harassment, intimidation, or bullying. So the district encourages other students to report the abuses when they occur.
The Board of Education, when determining consequences for these acts, will consider a number of factors that include age, development and maturity levels, degree of harm, surrounding circumstance, nature and severity of the behavior, incidents of past or continuing pattern of behavior, relationships between the parties involved, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred.
State pushes for even more anti-bullying mandates
With New Jersey already considered a model for the nation in regards to anti-bullying mandates for the school, the state legislature recently moved to create even tougher measures.
If signed by the governor, the legislation will give schools and alleged victims of bullying new legal tools to report harassment, and new steps to prosecute those allegedly responsible.
Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell said this state action deals with legal options for the alleged victims and pressures schools to crack down on bullies.
School policies are already required by the state. New Jersey’s school policies are considered a model by many anti-bullying groups.
The new measures put more pressure on teachers, administrators, and school board members to crack down on bullying, and would require them to complete anti-bullying training. The law would also put more repercussions in punishment for those guilty of bullying, such as suspension or expulsion on a first offense. Administrators who fail to adequately investigate alleged harassment could be disciplined themselves.