As school board members know, 2011 marked a significant change in how bullying, harassment, and intimidation were dealt with in New Jersey schools. The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” created a new definition of harassment, intimidation, and bullying (“HIB”); and, significantly for school boards, created new investigation, reporting, discipline, and appeal procedures that must be followed when there are reports of bullying.
In the six years that have passed since the enactment of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, school boards have struggled with how to properly handle the HIB process. Each school board is required to adopt a HIB policy, N.J.A.C. 6A:16-7.7, which must include a procedure for prompt investigation of complaints.
The timeline for HIB investigations should proceed as follows:
- Incident occurs and is verbally reported to principal on the same day by staff
- One school day from verbal report: investigation must begin
- Two calendar days from verbal report: written report must be made
- Ten school days from written report: investigation must be completed
- Twelve school days from written report: results of investigation are submitted to Chief School Administrator (“CSA”)
- Next board meeting (at the latest): CSA must report results of investigation to school board
- Five days from board meeting: parents and students must be provided information about the investigation
- Board meeting following the CSA’s report of the results of the investigation: the school board must issue a written decision affirming, modifying, or rejecting the CSA’s decision
- Within ninety days: board decision may be appealed to the Commissioner of Education
- Within one hundred and eighty days: parent, student or organization can file complaint with Division on Civil Rights
At any time during this process, the parent can request a hearing. Within ten days of parental request of hearing, the board must meet in executive session to review the matter. If a school board fails to follow the procedural timeliness outlined above, the HIB finding can be reversed by an Administrative Law Judge if the student or parent appeals.
To illustrate, in J.L. o/b/o A.L. v. Bd. of Educ. of Bridgewater-Raritan, OAL EDU 11604-15 (Oct. 24, 2016), a parent reported that girls on the school bus had been bullying his daughter for having a speech disability. During the investigation, the students admitted that they were making fun of the student because she had a speech problem.
The administrators completed the required investigation and report, which was presented by the CSA to the school board’s HIB Committee. However, the parents of the student involved were never provided information regarding the HIB investigation following the CSA’s presentation. The full school board voted to affirm the HIB finding, but the board never issued a written decision. The HIB finding was reversed because the school board failed to (1) provide the required information to the parents about the HIB investigation and (2) issue a decision in writing.
In HIB cases, procedure matters, and failure to follow the proper procedure can result in a valid HIB finding being overturned. School districts should take the time to ensure that their HIB complaints are being handled in the correct manner.
Additionally, the Legislature recently passed A.B. 3347, which requires the CSA to designate a “school safety specialist” in the district. This employee is responsible for:
- Supervision and oversight of all school safety and security personnel, policies, and procedures in the district;
- Ensuring that safety policies and procedures are in compliance with State law and regulations;
- Providing training and resources regarding school safety and security;
- Serving as the school district liaison with local law enforcement and national, State, and community agencies.
School safety specialists must be knowledgeable about HIB policies, best practices, and procedures.
For more information, please contact Parker McCay’s school law attorneys.