By Marissa Kindberg, Staff Writer
On June 14, 2017, 12-year-old Mallory Grossman tragically took her own life after suffering from months of bullying at the hands of her classmates. In the months leading up to her suicide, Mallory Grossman’s parents made numerous complaints to her school’s administration – but these complaints went unanswered, as the school district did little to address the bullying complaints. Following Mallory Grossman’s death, the New Jersey Legislature acted swiftly in order to rework the state’s anti-bullying laws – modifying how cases of harassment, intimidation and bullying are handled in schools. On January 10, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law amendments to the state’s anti-bullying laws. Several significant changes have been made to the state’s Anti-bullying Bill of Rights Act, with several provisions taking effect in 2022.
Criminal and Civil Charges
The new laws increase the amount of fines a parent or guardian may have imposed on them by a court for cyber harassment where their minor child is has been found to have committed acts of cyber harassment, and the parent failed to comply with a court ordered class. Also, under the revised laws, parents or guardians who demonstrate willful or wanton disregard in the supervision and control of conduct of a minor who has been found to have committed prior acts of cyber harassment.
Where a school district’s policy permits a principal to make a preliminary decision on whether an act fits in to the definition of an act of harassment, intimidation or bullying, the superintendent is now required to provide to the board of education the number of times the principal did so. Before the amendments, principals were not required to report the number of times they found an act to be outside the scope of the definition of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
Consequences for HIB in District Policy
Under the new law, school district policies are now required to include language that lays out the specific consequences and remedial actions for persons who commit an act of harassment, intimidation or bullying.
For first and second acts of harassment, intimidation or bullying, a copy of the results of the investigation must be placed in the student’s record and the student may be subject to remedial actions including counseling or behavioral intervention services, or discipline, or both, as determined by the principal in consultation with appropriate school staff.
For subsequent acts of harassment, intimidation and bullying, a copy of the investigation report will be placed in the student’s record, the principal, in consultation with appropriate staff, must develop an individual student intervention plan which the superintendent or his/her designee must approve, which may include remedial actions as noted above, discipline and may require the student, accompanied by a parent or guardian to complete a class related to reducing HIB behavior.
Department of Education Written Report Form
The amendments also provide that any act of harassment, intimidation or bullying must now be reported in writing to both the principal and the superintendent. All written reports must now be on a numbered department of education form and presented to the Department of Education prior to the date of the next board of education meeting.
This form is required to be completed even where the district makes a preliminary determination that the incident or act is outside the scope of the definition of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
Additionally, school districts are now required to provide a way for parents and guardians to complete a numbered form online to confidentially report instances of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
School Climate State Coordinators
One of the biggest changes to the New Jersey anti-bullying laws includes the implementation of a School Climate State Coordinator within the Department of Education. The School Climate State Coordinator helps to assists school districts and parents with the new amendments and has several important duties including:
- Identifying and disseminating research and resources, including professional development resources, to promote best practices in student social-emotional learning and the development of a positive, supportive school climate in New Jersey schools;
- Reviewing and reporting data collected on harassment, intimidation and bullying
- Working collaboratively with law enforcement, the Department of Education, the Division on Civil Rights in the Department of Law and Public Safety, and the Department of Health to develop a training program on the impact of harassment, intimidation, and bullying on students and schools, that will be available for school districts to use in local anti-bullying programs and intervention plans;
- Working collaboratively with law enforcement, including organizations representing school resource officers, to develop resources and training for law enforcement concerning the impact of harassment, intimidation, and bullying on students and schools
Acts of harassment, intimidation and bullying are serious matters that carry significant consequences for both students and parents of students who have committed acts of cyber harassment. It is imperative that school districts comply with the state’s new requirements in order to ensure that acts of bullying no longer get swept under the rug and students can learn in a safe environment.
Marissa Kindberg is a third year law student at Rutgers University-Newark, where she is a member of the Rutgers Italian American Law Student Organization and is the Research and Technologies editor for the Women’s Rights Law Reporter.