Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. to help school districts fully comply with the landmark Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights law was headed for final legislative approval on Thursday with the Assembly approving the measure by a vote of 72-2-3 and the Senate expected to follow suit.
“This bipartisan solution will help school districts implement the new law, without changing the context of the law, which means that our goal of protecting the countless students who are at the mercy of bullies day in and day out remains intact,” said Vainieri Huttle. “We acknowledged from day one that this law was comprehensive in nature, which is what made it one of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the nation. Any additional help we can provide schools to implement this will hopefully mean more lives bettered because of it.”
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was signed into law last January and went into effect in September with the start of the new school year. In late January of this year, the state Council on Local Mandates found that the law contained unfunded mandates after several school districts filed complaints. The legislature was given 60 days to remedy the law or risk it being invalidated.
Vainieri Huttle and Senator Barbara Buono worked with their co-sponsors from across the aisle and Governor Christie to reach the solution contained in the measure approved today, wherein the state will provide $1 million in funding, to be awarded as grants through the State Department of Education, to help districts provide training on harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention and on the effective creation of positive school climates, and to help fund related personnel expenses.
Final approval of the bill will allow the legislature to meet the 60-day solution requirement mandated by the Council.
“I’m pleased that everyone was able to come together to reach a practical solution that puts the safety and well-being of our students first,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Every student should be entitled to go to school and learn in an environment free of harassment, intimidation and bullying. Helping schools implement this new law will help us better achieve that goal.”
However, the bill (A-2709) stipulates that, prior to making an application for a grant, a district must explore bullying prevention programs and approaches that are available at no cost, and make an affirmative demonstration of that exploration in their grant application.
Programs and training to implement bullying prevention programs and approaches and to provide training to school employees and volunteers are available at no cost from the Department of Education, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, and various other entities. The use of any program or training that would impose a cost on the district would be at the discretion of the district.
“With any new law of this magnitude, there’s going be some growing pains. This will help assist schools in adjusting and complying with the new requirements. I’m grateful that everyone involved in this process has shown a willingness to work together for the benefit of our students.”
Additionally, the bill calls for the creation of a seven-member taskforce to provide guidance to school districts on available reDests to assist in the implementation of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act; examine the implementation of the act; draft model regulations and submit them to the Commissioner of Education for use in promulgating regulations to implement the provisions of the act.
The task force would also present any recommendations regarding the act deemed to be necessary and appropriate and prepare a report within 180 days of its organizational meeting, and annually for the following three years, on the effectiveness of the act in addressing bullying in schools. The report will be submitted to the commissioner, to the Governor, and to the Legislature, and the task force will expire upon the submission of its final report.