The "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights" created a financial burden on school districts as well as an implementation and enforcement burden that was often poorly executed by school staff — according to attendees at a symposium in Newark yesterday.
Assemblyman John F. McKeon fielded those comments and other questions and said he was open to criticisms and feedback regarding the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights after he gave the keynote speech at the day-long anti-bullying symposium at yesterday morning.
The symposium came just a week after little-known Council of Local Mandates. McKeon (D-27th District) sponsored both the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights and its precursor, the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying law that was passed in 2002.
At the symposium, McKeon pledged his continued commitment to restoring the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, but also said that the council's ruling offered a "little bit of a time out now to rectify" issues around the bill.
"I'm hoping for a white paper from this symposium to help the Legislature," said McKeon during one exchange with a commenter.
One audience member, an attorney who serves on a board of education in Monmouth County, said that, with the law, "it seems there's a lot of paperwork when it's common sense." He added, "We've always had student interventions and students working problems out themselves — which is the real world."
McKeon responded that it was "silly" that there would not be peer intervention with the new law. "I think there has been a disconnect with the state Department of Eduaction and it needs to be ironed out," said McKeon.
Another audience member, a state assistant prosecutor specializing in juvenile cases, said some schools were calling the police on bullying issues and "tying up" police and court services.
Another commenter wanted to see penalties for false reporting and assurances that the person being accused of bullying does not become the subject of community scrutiny.
Yet another attendee said the new law had created a six-figure financial burden in his school district where a full-time anti-bullying coordinator had been hired.
At times, McKeon asked the commenters for more information and engaged in a back-and-forth dialogue with the audience. "We've got to get better at this and that's where the training comes in and better rule-making," said McKeon.
While McKeon felt that the Department of Education's rule-making around the law could clear up issues around implementation and enforcement, he said that he felt the funding issues would be cleared up in one of two ways: by having the Legislature add an appropriation, or by going back to the Department of Education to ensure the training and support was in place so that existing personnel could execute the law.
"That's what I expect will happen," said McKeon, referring to the second option.
McKeon has with lawmakers and the Christie administration to find solutions to restore the 'Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.'"
The symposium, which was organized by law students who work for the Legislative Journal, included three panels on bullying, cyber bullying and the First Amendment and included panels with lawyers, law professors and public advocates.
"We plan to closely examine whether the requirements can be implemented by using existing resources, as argued by the state Department of Education in its petition to the Council on Local Mandates,” McKeon had stated, along with Jasey, in release prior to the symposium. “The DOE is responsible for providing training to school districts at no cost. If that is not happening, we need to know why. If the funding source named in the bill, the Bullying Prevention Fund, has not been established in the DOE as intended, that too must be explained."
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights requires school districts to establish bullying prevention programs, form school safety teams and foster and maintain a positive environment. It also requires all teachers, administrators and school board members to complete anti-bullying training. Each district must also establish a district anti-bullying coordinator.
The measure strengthens the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying law (A-1874) enacted in 2002, which McKeon also sponsored.
The day-long symposium, organized by law students Michelle Newton and Marisa Hourdajian, was held at the Larson Auditorium at the Seton Hall School of Law in Newark.