Fine Print: Anti-Bullying Incident Report Form

John Mooney | November 30, 2011 | Education
The war against school bullying gets a new ally -- a paper one

What it is: The state this week distributed to school districts the new form for reporting incidents of harassment, bullying and intimidation under the new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. The form is page 4 of the state’s system for recording all incidents of violence, vandalism, and substance abuse in schools.

What it means: The form is the first of several steps the state is taking to address worries about the bureaucratic burdens imposed by the new law aimed to prevent bullying in and outside of schools. While lauding the law’s intentions, administrators and educators have said the state up to now has provided little guidance on how to implement a law that requires strict timelines and procedures for investigating accusations of bullying, including those online and outside school.

What it demands: The form requires administrators in every school to report to the state and their own Boards of Education a checklist of details about any confirmed case of bullying, including the nature of the incident and how it was resolved, be it suspension, counseling and even restitution.

Details, details: The form lists the protected categories as they relate to bullying and harassment in the law, including gender, race, sexual orientation, “gender identity and expression” and “other distinguishing categories.”

Mode and effect: Every incident is also broken down into how such bullying happened (physical, gesture, electronic, and so on.) and its effect, such as “substantially disrupted or interfered with orderly operation of a school or rights of students or others.”

More to come: The state Department of Education plans to provide further guidance in the coming weeks, officials said. In addition, there will be online tutorials and an ongoing “frequently asked questions” summary. “We will continue to provide guidance to the districts,” said Susan Martz, director of the state’s Office of Student Support Services. “There’s a lot more we will be doing on this.” Still, there is only so much clarity that can be added to what is a very specific statute which lead sponsors in the legislature have said they have little inclination to soften.

What happens to the information: The data is to be reported to the public and the state twice a year, with its information going into a grade that the state Department of Education will annually bestow on each school. Going into that grade will also be data on training and other programs being offered by the district for staff and students.

Immediate reaction: Districts have been building their own reporting forms for internal use, a practice that state officials said can continue as long as the same basic information is included. But the added guidance is being welcomed, and critics have said they look forward to more. “Our members wish we had this all along,” said Richard Bozza, director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.