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Board of Ed Approves New Policies Dealing with Bullying

Policy reflects state law regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying.

If students don’t know it by now, they will become fully aware of the state’s new laws about harassment, intimidation and bullying when school starts back in the fall.

And they should be aware. What they don't know could hurt them or land them trouble and not just with their teachers and principals, but with the district and with law enforcement as well.

Until now, some students may have thought that they couldaway with saying and doing just about anything they wanted, especially on the phone or online, but not anymore.  If they say something cruel or intimidating to another student either in person or through electronic communication – whether it happens on school property or after-hours – school officials will and must act.

The Board of Education -- upon second reading of the district’s policy regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying on Tuesday night -- approved the district’s new policy, which follows the state law and makes it mandatory to report such acts. If a principal or the superintendent does not conduct an investigation into the allegations, they will be subject to disciplinary measures.

During the second reading, Board Member Lise Chapman questioned whether someone who witnesses harassment, intimidation, bullying outside of school will actually tell the school.

“Good luck,” she said.

Other board members agreed that it seems to be asking a lot to get people to come forward regarding incidents outside of school but Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield said that the administration is working on putting “things in place to make people feel comfortable to report it.”

In addition, he said, knowing that behavior whether in person or on electronic devices will be investigated and analyzed maybe deter the behavior in the first place.

“Why take the risk?” he said.

The district will also help the targets of abuse feel more comfortable reporting it.

The consequences for violating the policy will vary depending on the circumstances, the severity of the behavior and degree of harm to the target of the bullying. It can be dealt with at the school or district level but law enforcement may be contacted. Those who engage in harassment, intimidation or bullying could be suspended, expelled, enrolled in a program, placed in therapy or referred to law enforcement.

The district will hire a Anti-Bullying Coordinator and appoint an Anti-Bullying Specialist at each school, where there will also be a School Safety Team.                

 In related policies also approved on Tuesday, the board:

  • Voted in favor of “School Violence Awareness Week” during October of each year, which will be observed with activities to prevent school violence such as pupil discussions about conflict resolution and issues of pupil diversity and tolerance. The district will invite law enforcement officers to join teachers in the discussions and provide programs for school employees that are designed to help them recognize warning signs of school violence and to instruct them on recommended conduct during an incident of school violence.
  •  Approved a policy that mandates all school district employees to report acts of school violence and student drug use. School officials will report them to the state Department of Education, which grades each district on how it handles such complaints.
  • Approved a policy that ensures training for teachers in suicide prevention and recognizing the warning signs of a pupil who is contemplating self destruction or harm. 

For more news out of the meeting check back later today.

M OKeef July 27, 2011 at 10:47 AM
For the October week, all high school and middle school students AND Staff (administrators too) should read The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School (Alexandra Robbins) and have schoolwide book club type discussion. This could facilitate a step forward for the school's culture.
MG July 27, 2011 at 12:19 PM
Its nice to see that the school system has finally gotten the concept that "kids will be kids" is not a plan. Bullying, including cyber bullying is a significant and REAL problem that can effect its victims for years.
Acton July 27, 2011 at 01:18 PM
If conduct takes place outside of school and has no impact on school matters, I don't see any basis to impose a reporting obligation on school officials, and in fact, it could violate the privacy and first amendment rights of the involved students. That said, if this complies with the state law, the district must align itself with that law. It's a very tricky legal area, and it is a positive thing, in my view, that we have Board members with legal backgrounds to help the Board consider these issues.
Noreen Brunini July 27, 2011 at 01:31 PM
Very curious as to what the law says about things that happen during summer months...was this addressed?
G. Anderson July 27, 2011 at 02:16 PM
If the bullying is a carry-over from the school, the recourse is understandable, however will/are there clarifications if bullying originates from outside of the school environment? For example, how would the situation of two children from different schools (one private/one public; middle school/high school et al.) be handled and by whom? I question whether this will allow some parents to shift parenting onto the schools/administration. Much too vague.
LDSF July 27, 2011 at 02:49 PM
Preventing bullying truly needs to be a partnership between school, family and community. “Partnerships can improve school programs and school climate, provide family services and support, increase parent’s skills and leadership, connect families with others in the school and in the community, and help teachers with their work. However, the main reason to create such partnerships is to help all youngsters succeed in school and in later life. When parents, teachers, students and others view one another as partners in education, a caring community forms around students and begins its work.” If a situation is known of where a child is being bullied, don’t assume the authority knows about it also. Let the school and community know if something is happening outside of school that is making the parent and children feel uncomfortable. Together we can give our children the skills they need to cope with bullying and other social problems when they occur.
KLF July 27, 2011 at 03:15 PM
Bullying outside of school ALWAYS has an impact on 'school matters." Do you think that the bully and victim, in an incident outside school, become BFF once they step on school grounds? The victimization carries over into school.
JFC July 27, 2011 at 03:16 PM
The policy seems to make no mention of procedures for reporting or disciplining faculty members for either their own acts of harassment/intimidation/bullying of students, or their failure to report complaints. Millburn's Equity/Diversity Study cited specific incidences of faculty harassment/intimidation/bullying of students as well as faculty failure to report complaints. According to the study, when our faculty engages in this type of conduct, it gives the students the impression that a bias sanctioned environment is permissible and acceptable.
MadInNJ July 29, 2011 at 05:04 AM
Another unfunded mandate from the state that has the added benefit of increasing the number of lawsuits that will be generated against a deep-pocketed plaintiff - The School Districts (i.e., taxpayers) of NJ. Predication - Within two to three years districts will be seeing their insurance costs skyrocket.
Acton July 29, 2011 at 01:39 PM
KLF, I did not say bullying does not carry over to school. It might, and it might not. My point is that not all conduct that is addressed by the policy will rise to the level of bullying nor frankly, should it. For example, if two students that do not know each other engage in on-line anonymous insults, even if one is able to identify them through the cloak of anonymity, it may not equate with bullying nor have any impact on school. Two kids get into an argument at a local movie theater? Is that necessarily bullying? Should those things be sanctionable by the school? Schools have an obligation to provide a safe environment on the premises. It is not the case that all off=premises conduct, even if one might find it offensive, has an impact on school matters. In addition, there are serious free speech and privacy issues about using using off-premises conduct as the basis for school discipline. This is an area of the law that is evolving. There is little certainty regarding what is and is not appropriate. As I said it's very tricky.
MillerTime July 29, 2011 at 04:35 PM
This seems like a very slippery slope....one person's definition of bullying may not match anothers. Sometimes bullying is obvious but usually not. Then to extend the monitoring to anywhere and everywhere....like I said..slippery slope.
MG July 29, 2011 at 04:41 PM
all valid comments about the legal issues... lots of things to consider. one item to consider though is that being bullied is i'm guessing like being in pain. and i'm pretty sure that nurses (and i'm guessing doctors as well) will agree that pain is considered to be as real as the person experiencing it feels that it is. so it doesnt really matter if different people experience being in pain or being bullied in different degrees. what matters is how you experience it. but this is definitely a difficult subject.
Acton July 29, 2011 at 07:31 PM
I do think it matters, Mark. If we too easily consider something bullying, the consequences can be quite severe. One of the things we have to guard against is being overly protective and thereby infantiliizing our children. We should take care to teach them to resist being too easily offended. They are much stronger than we often give them credit for, and overprotecting and indulging every sensitivity can make them weaker. None of this is to minimize the consequences of actual invidious treatment, be it bullying, harassment or intimidation.
MK July 30, 2011 at 04:55 PM
PS. Don't be surprised if we see lawyers coming out of the wood work on this too--I can't think of a better lawsuit fodder..... PSS. Equally, I hope this doesn't backlash into a situation where people are afraid to report true incidents of harassment because of the draconian consequences. Two boys getting labeled sex offenders in Somerset due to horseplay come to mind.....
MK July 30, 2011 at 05:00 PM
By the way--I don't disagree with you about the real consequence despite my comments below. It's the definitions and applications in the wording that I find problematic. Putting it another way--what a great new tool we have created for bullies. I accuse you of bullying me with questionable evidence and you get in trouble. It's a heck of a lot more effective and awful than posting anonymously on your FB wall. I have seen terrible examples of intimidation and bullying where I am thrilled this will be addressed....but with that is going to come a host of other punishable offenses that are even scarier to me than that.... Using words like "embarrass" as an example is troublesome. Under the law, could disagreeing with you openly like this turn me into a bully? Where will the lines be drawn? That's what worries me.
MK July 30, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Acton: I think the issue now is online..... Although I am vehemently opposed to the wording of the new law, I do feel that the one benefit will come from this online issue. I know young people from all over who have been horribly harassed--anonymously, semi anonymously etc. Last week, a purported "friend" tagged my beautiful niece in one of her pictures. Harmless---right? Actually--it was horrible because she used a terribly unflattering picture of my niece with a host of commentary underneath about my niece's body. She is 11..... The irony, however, is this: for the first time I got how parents get roped in.... For one nansecond I considered ripping that other little girl to pieces online. Obviously, I would never ever do such a thing nor is it my issue to handle--that's for my inlaws as this is their child. Still--the fact I felt such anger was very illustrative to me how all this escalates. Very sad world we live in.
MK July 30, 2011 at 05:08 PM
I think Miller time hit it on the head. I get this is law, but I think this is flawed and taking our society in the exact opposite direction it ought to be going to resolve what is a true crisis of aggression in our nation right now. First of all-- perception is very much at the heart of many altercations between young people. (Adults too.) Prior to recent years, bullying had always been something that all reasonable people recognized it as so when it happened. Most people can see and identify harassment and intimidation when they see it. Yet lately--if someone doesn't offer you a seat on the bus, or looks at someone "funny" etc etc, it is considered bullying. I know--I have heard incidents like this from otherwise reasonable friends and even my own kids...My own (young) child has said "He bullied me. He wasn't nice." I assure you that kind of victim mentality was NOT taught at home....but I worry I may be fighting a losing battle in teaching my kids to feel empowered if everyone is now "looking" for bullies. I agree with Acton that thick skin is a good thing to grow. This law and related policy runs the danger of creating a society of accusers.... Harassment should NEVER EVER be tolerated, but likewise, rudeness should not be policed---and that is what my fear is will occur from this law. We are going to systemically teach our kids to "tattle tale" every single time someone embarrasses them--to quote from the law which cites embarrassment as a punishable offense.
Matt Stewart July 30, 2011 at 06:22 PM
There is a thin line between freedom of expression/free speech and bullying... Is the only requirement that the "victim's" feelings are hurt? If so...this seems like a pretty thin standard...how do we distinguish between challenging someone's ideas v. outright intimidation/bullying...? Is this a good policy...or would Big Brother be proud? Do we need thought police too? If I write down my thoughts...but do not act on them...have I committed a crime? If I disagree with a person's political views in a polemic way, am I now open to prosecution? I do not favor bullying...but if we create an environment where young people are afraid to express themselves because the brownshirts might report them or detain them...then are we killing a fly with a sledgehammer? not sure...but am troubled by the concept of over-policing...particulalry if the law or policy is subject to subjective interpretation... eg. if a kid trips and falls at school and another kid calls him/her a "loser"...is that bullying?...does context matter?... what about irony "when the meaning of the statement is the opposite of the literal text?"...do we now eliminate irony form our discourse...? help!
Matthew Stoloff July 31, 2011 at 09:20 PM
M. OKeef's suggestion that everyone at school should read Alexandra Robbins' book is a fantastic suggestion. This book has gotten rave reviews and was on the New York Times bestseller list. I would also recommend Teen Cyberbulling Investigated by Judge Thomas Jacobs. I also suggest that teachers and school personnel develop activities that encourage students to be active participants in the class. Passively listening to anti-bullying messages is not going to cut it. Encouraging students to engage in philosophical debates about "free speech" and First Amendment rights would be a step in the right direction.
Matthew Stoloff July 31, 2011 at 10:03 PM
Matt, You ask good questions. I'll just address a few, and maybe others can chime in. If students write down their thoughts and keep it private, like a diary, I do not think they have committed a crime. However, if a student posts hateful thoughts about a particular student on a social media website, like Facebook, it may be a problem. There have been federal cases involving student harassment via social media. This law does not prevent teachers and students from expressing themselves. It depends on what you mean by "polemic," but I do not think teachers or students will be disciplined for expressing their views as long as it is done in a respectful manner -- no ad hominems, no name calling, etc. Regarding irony, the law does not specifically "eliminate" irony. However, the law is written broadly. Look at how the law defines "harassment, intimidation or bullying" on the second half of page 7 of this link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2010/Bills/PL10/122_.PDF As you can see, the law is very broad. Indeed, we may have difficulties with context and interpretation, and this is cause for concern because not all lawyers will interpret the facts or the law in the same way. This can result in lawsuits. Also, sometimes when you have broadly written laws such as this, there may be unintended consequences; and I actually discuss that in one of my blog articles here: http://stoloff-law.com/blog/nj-anti-bullying-bill-of-rights-act-part-ii
Carolyn Most August 03, 2011 at 04:39 AM
Where are the parents in all of this? Especially with the online stuff. If I discovered that my child was posting nasty things online, I would take away their access. In fact, why would any parent let an 11 year old have a Facebook account? Or for that matter, unsupervised access to the internet? I run my business on the internet and I added an email address with my daughter's name which I use to communicate news about her to friends and family. I am not a helicopter parent by any means. My nearly 6 year old has a degree of freedom and responsibility that most of her peers do not and I feel it is important that she learns to entertain herself without parental supervisor indoors and out, but I cannot tell you how many times I have seen explicit porn show up in the mailbox I set up with her name on it. It will be a long time before she has access to any email or internet sites that I don't see first (cont)
Carolyn Most August 03, 2011 at 04:39 AM
It is ridiculous to try to legislate away the cruel behavior that kids and teenagers engage in. The real issue with bullying is that it is not so much about the specific behavior but how it impacts certain kids. Something that rolls off of one child might be devastating to another. The school certainly has some role if this sort of behavior is going on in school and a student is told that a specific behavior is causing pain or humiliation. Just like sexual harassment, it is the experience of the harassed that defines the harassment. But at the end of the day, it is the parents that have to take responsibility - hopefully by choice, but by force of the school district if the behavior continues.
Carolyn Most August 03, 2011 at 04:47 AM
Great suggestions! I would also like to see not just books on preventing bullying, but books and curriculum that positively engage our kids in what appropriate conflict resolution is and how civil discourse ought to work. As a society we are all so often bombarded with complete lack of civility on so many levels, how can we expect our kids to spontaneous adopt civil behavior? When I attended MHS in the late 70's we had a teacher named Mr. McCormick who set up controlled and extremely well executed social experiments in our class that taught a bunch of affluent almost exclusively white kids what discrimination felt like ( the class was called Minorities I think). It was a profound experience. Seems like this approach might be a better investment in our kids than after the fact intervention.

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