NJ District Claims Anti-Bullying Law is Too Expensive

Ridgewood Board of Education (BOE) members have voted to pass a resolution criticizing and contesting the district's adherence to the new Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) Law, writes Anna Spiewak at the Ridgewood News:

As an unfunded mandate, officials have described the law as a "significant drain on the human and financial resources of the district."

"We were investigating alleged bullying, intimidation, harassment situations before this. But now there's a law involved and it has become a very paper-bureaucratic process. It is costing the district time and money," said Superintendent of Schools Daniel Fishbein.

"This resolution means in general that laws and mandates on schools should not be passed without funding."

The district is following the Allamuchy Board of Education, who filed a complaint with The State of New Jersey Council of Local Mandates at the end of the summer, echoing the Ridgewood complaints about the extra costs.

"They're requiring us to do this, but not supplying the funds to do it the right way," says Timothy Frederiks, superintendent of schools at Allamuchy Township.

Alongside the financial requirements of providing HIB training to teachers and hiring an HIB coordinator in every school building, school districts must also report and file every incident that occurs at a school, even if it is later found to not be bully related.

"We don't have definitive answers from the state on what's the difference between normal student conflict, which happens every day, and bullying, which now has become a buzzword," Frederiks added, "and then the incident gets escalated up to a whole different level, and it may not truly be bullying."

Following the highly publicized suicide of Ridgewood High School graduate Tyler Clementi last year, Governor Christie signed into effect the New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. The HIB brought with it extensive changes to the way that bullying is handled and reported.

All incidents of alleged bullying are filed and reported into the school record, and an investigation must be immediately launched. The act also alters previously existing policies, expands the definition of "harassment, intimidation and bullying" to include single incidents, not just patterns of behavior, and broadens the definition of what signifies a bullying incident.

"We will continue to discuss the experience of districts in implementing this new law and will consider approaching the legislature collaboratively with our districts to discuss potential modifications to the law in the future."

The resolution by the Ridgewood school district and the complaint from Allemuchy Board of Education, is under review by the State of New Jersey Council on Local Mandates.

If the mandate commission approves the complaints, the law may then be struck down.

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