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New Jersey has the best anti-bullying laws in the United States

gavel123.PNGOnce upon a time, New Jersey bullying laws only covered acts of physical violence between students. Now, the state laws define bullying as "any conduct that has the possibility of disrupting a student's learning environment." So bullying may include verbal threats to a student, psychological threats like spreading rumors, or traditional physical violence. Bullying also includes cyberbullying - student harassment that occurs over cell phones, social media, and other electronic outlets.

In addition to expanding the definition of bullying, the New Jersey legislature has also empowered schools with a wider jurisdiction to regulate bullying. Under the 2012 New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, a school administration may regulate ANY bullying, so long as there is some type of connection between the bullying and the school. It is therefore possible for a school to regulate bullying that occurs outside of school grounds. Similarly, a school may be held accountable for failing to regulate bullying, even if the bullying occurred off school grounds.

Overall, these changes are commendable. New Jersey has clearly demonstrated that it is committed to the well-being of our student population. What's more, the New Jersey legislature is likely not finished regulating bullying - we should expect more changes to New Jersey's anti-bullying laws in the future.

The recent wave of anti-bullying legislation dates back to 2002, where the New Jersey legislature officially recognized bullying as a systemic issue in education. Consequently, the NJ legislature has taken the general position that it is no longer sufficient for schools to solely address bullying incidents on a case-by-case basis. In addition to responding to bullying incidents as they arise, schools must also take preventive measures to combat bullying before it ever occurs.

For example, in the recent case of L.W. v. Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education, a New Jersey student was subject to ongoing harassment from fellow students. The harassment occurred from the time the student was in the fifth grade, all the way up to early high school. Although the student's principal had stepped in to stop the bullying on multiple occasions, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the student could still sue the Toms River Board of Education.

Ultimately, the court found that the Toms River policy did not meet New Jersey anti-bullying & discrimination standards. It was not enough for a principal to step in every time a bullying incident occurred. Rather, the district had to establish a better policy geared towards preventive bullying. In this case, the failure to implement a sound policy resulted in nearly $70,000 in damages for the student-plaintiff L.W (mostly emotional distress).

So, what exactly does a sound anti-bullying policy look like? According to a New Jersey issued compliance checklist, a school district's anti-bullying policy must, at minimum:

  1. Expansively define what conduct constitutes bullying.

  2. Inform students of expected, normal behavior.

  3. Outline consequences for students who engage in bullying.

  4. Provide avenues (both in-person and anonymously) for students to report bullying incidents

  5. Define school procedures for investigating bullying reports.

  6. Define how a school will respond to an investigatory finding of bullying.

  7. Provide anti-retaliatory protection for the students who reporting bullying.

  8. Define disciplinary standards for students who falsely accuse another of bullying.

  9. Discuss how schools within the district intend to make their district's bullying policy known.

  10. Require that the policy be electronically available on each school's website.

As always, if you or someone you know has a question about anti-bullying laws, your district's anti-bullying policies, or your school's response to a bullying incident, please feel free to contact the firm. The requirements under the new anti-bullying laws are complex and extensive (to say the least). Additionally, bullying is a serious issue with possible long-term consequences for the victim. You should make sure to address any issues you might have as soon as possible.

John Kundradt, a recent graduate of Rutgers Law School, who received a BA from Fordham University, researched and wrote this blog.

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