On January 10, 2022, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law S-1790/A-1662 to amend and strengthen New Jersey’s existing anti-bullying law (“New Law”). Many of the changes aim to create a school climate that will decrease harassment, intimidation and bullying (“HIB”), using various tools, such as the creation of a School Climate State Coordinator. Other changes shall be implemented by local school districts, including amendments to anti-bullying policies and procedures.
Below is a brief summary of several key changes:
New Requirements for Anti-Bullying Policies
Under the New Law, a school district’s anti-bullying policy must include specific consequences for a student who commits an act of harassment, intimidation or bullying:
- For the first and second acts of HIB committed by a student, 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 the provision of counseling or behavioral intervention services, or discipline, or both, as determined by the principal in consultation with appropriate school staff; and
- for the third and each subsequent act, a copy of the results of the investigation must be placed in the student’s record, and the principal, in consultation with appropriate school staff, must develop an individual student intervention plan, which must be approved by the superintendent. The plan may include remedial actions and may require the student, accompanied by a parent or guardian, to complete a class or training program to reduce harassment, intimidation, or bullying behavior.
The New Law further provides that a school district’s anti-bullying policy must also include a requirement that the school district, along with each school in the district with a website, post on its homepage the current version of the document, Guidance for Parents on the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, developed by the Department of Education (“DOE”).
New Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements
Further, the New Law amended the previous reporting requirement for school employees to provide a written report detailing a HIB incident to the school principal, to be on a numbered form developed by the DOE. The form must be completed even if a preliminary determination is made under the school district’s policy that the reported incident or complaint is a report outside the scope of the definition of HIB under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. The New Law also created a requirement for districts to provide parents/guardians with an online form to report an incident of HIB. The principal will be responsible for promptly submitting a copy of the form to the superintendent of schools.
The superintendent may require the principal to investigate the incident (if they determine the incident is within the scope of HIB). The superintendent must notify the principal of this determination in writing.
An investigation into a violation or complaint of HIB must be completed as soon as possible, but no later than 10 school days from the date of the written report of the incident of HIB or from the date the principal receives written notification from the superintendent directing the principal to initiate an investigation into an incident. The superintendent of schools may seek further information following receipt of the results of an investigation.
After the conclusion of the investigation, if a hearing is requested by a parent or guardian, a redacted copy of this form (without student identification information) shall be confidentially shared with the board of education.
School Climate State Coordinator
The New Law establishes the position of School Climate State Coordinator (“State Coordinator”) within the DOE to serve as a resource to parents, students, and educators. The duties and responsibilities of the position will include:
- identifying and distributing research and resources, to promote best practices in student social-emotional learning and the development of a positive, supportive climate in schools;
- reviewing and reporting data collected on HIB to identify and report to the DOE any patterns of HIB in public schools;
- assisting the DOE in creating public information programs that educate parents, educators, and the public concerning the duties of the State Coordinator, the issue of HIB, and the resources available to address and prevent it; and
- working collaboratively with law enforcement, the DOE, 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 HIB on students and schools, that will be available for school districts to use in local anti-bullying programs and intervention plans.
Parental Liability for Cyber Bullying
Also, the New Law establishes civil liability for parents of minors adjudicated delinquent for cyber-harassment or harassment and increases the criminal penalty. Currently, under the provisions of the cyber-harassment statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.1, the court may order a parent/guardian of a minor under the age of 16 to attend classes or training with the minor; failure to comply shall result in a disorderly person’s offense and the imposition of a fine. The New Law increases the accompanying monetary penalty against the parent/guardian of up to a $100 fine for the first offense (rather than $25), and a $500 fine for each subsequent offense (formerly $100).
Additionally, civil liability may be imposed on a parent/guardian who demonstrates a willful or wanton disregard in the exercise of the supervision and control of a minor adjudicated delinquent of cyber-harassment or harassment.
The cyber-harassment provisions took effect immediately. The remainder of the provisions of S-1790/A-1662 will take effect July 9, 2022.
If you have legal concerns related to the new law and how it may impact your school district, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Education Law Group at 201-896-4100.