More School Administrators, Teachers Getting Behind State’s Anti-Bullying Law

John Mooney | February 4, 2015 | Education
Report indicates that most educators believe New Jersey’s landmark legislation is helping to improve school climate and culture

bullying new site
Three years after the law was passed, according to a new report, New Jersey’s landmark anti-bullying legislation is starting to win broader acceptance from the people who have to enforce it: teachers and administrators.

A new survey of schools conducted by the state’s Anti-Bullying Task Force found close to two-thirds of the close to 2,000 educators polled agreed the law has helped foster a positive change in the schools in terms both of raising their awareness of possible problems and of improving the school climate in general.

The survey, part of the group’s annual report released this week, also found strong majorities of those polled said they adequately trained and prepared for their responsibilities under the law.

The one mixed result concerned the time and financial resources needed to implement and carry out the policy, with just as many saying there were not enough resources available as those who said there were. The state had allotted $1 million in the first year as grants to districts, but has since pulled back on additional funding.

The annual report — the second of three from the task force, with the final one coming next year — was a boost to the law that saw a tumultuous beginning but has started to settle into the status quo for schools.

“What’s happening slowly is that schools are not just thinking of compliance with the law anymore but also seeing that the general climate of the school is so important,” said Patricia Wright, chair of the seven-member panel and executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

“It’s not just about fire drills, but building a positive climate throughout the school,” she said.

The task force, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2012 to monitor the law’s implementation, did continue to press some recommendations for improving the requirements.

Among them were changes in code and guidance about how the law is to be carried out, including important definitions as to what triggers an anti-bullying investigation and what is chalked up to a simple fight or conflict.

For instance, the task force is recommending language be added that defines a potential bullying incident as one in which there is an imbalance of power, perceived or real.

It is also reiterating that the law does cover hazing incidents, a topic of interest in the past year with the allegations of widespread hazing on the Sayreville football team. Wright stressed that any legislation to add hazing to the definition of bullying is unnecessary.

“After some of the recent incidents, there was talk about adding legislation, but the task force wanted to make clear that hazing is covered under the law,” she said.

Still, the task force does recommend bringing in sports coaches and other supervisors of extracurricular programs to be part of the school-climate teams in every school.