New Jersey’s Tough Anti-Bullying Law – 4 Things Parents Need To Know If Their Child Has Been Accused Of Bullying
Following the tragic suicide of bullied teen Tyler Clementi in 2010, the New Jersey Legislature found that the percentage of students bullied in all of New Jersey is higher than the national median. Our lawmakers took action, and Governor Chris Christie intended for the new anti-bullying law, which was passed in 2011, to be one of the toughest in the nation. Now, several years after its enactment, the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Act (the “Act”) has proven to be tough in another sense – difficult for school administrators to execute and even more difficult for parents to understand so that they can best protect their children.
The Act has come under scrutiny due to the recent allegations made against seven football players at Sayreville High School in Sayreville, New Jersey. The players have been charged with various serious criminal offenses stemming from hazing incidents in the locker room where groups of upperclassmen allegedly held down freshman players and kicked, punched, and digitally penetrated them. The entire football program has been shut down and five coaches have been suspended with pay while the investigation is pending.
Is Sayreville’s Board of Education dropping the hammer too hard? The short answer is probably not. After an allegation of harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB) has been made, the Act requires the school to launch a thorough and timely investigation. The incident must be verbally reported to the principal the very day it is witnessed. After several other steps are taken by school officials over the next couple of weeks, the parents of students who are parties to the investigation must be notified in writing of the nature of the investigation, whether the district found evidence of HIB, and whether discipline was imposed or services provided to address the incident.
So what happens next? How does a parent protect his or her child after an accusation of bullying has been made?
- Parents have the right to appeal a finding that their child has engaged in HIB. After receiving written notice of the findings of the investigation, parents have the right to request a hearing before the board of education, which must occur within 10 days of the request. Evidence can then be presented to refute a finding of HIB. The parents of the alleged victim also have the right to be there and to present evidence of their own. Having an attorney at this stage in the process is crucial.
- Parents are generally restricted from viewing investigation reports or any other information that would violate student confidentiality. Proceedings involving juveniles entail lots of confidential information. Juvenile proceedings in the courts are closed to the public, unlike adult proceedings which anyone may attend. It can be a frustrating process. A good attorney can help explain the process so that a parent whose child has been accused of bullying does not feel left in the dark. A good attorney can also help a parent understand what to do and what not to do to make the legal situation better for his or her child.
- Hazing is a distinct criminal offense in all of New Jersey with which a student also accused of bullying may be charged in some circumstances. New Jersey Statute 2C:40-3 makes hazing a disorderly persons offense, unless someone being initiated into a group suffers serious bodily injury – then it becomes a fourth-degree felony offense.
- Juveniles accused of bullying not only face school-related consequences under New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Act – they may also face serious criminal charges in the courts that could result in years of incarceration in a juvenile justice facility. Like the situation involving the Sayreville High School football players, school bullying incidents can rise to the level of serious criminal offenses. Seven Sayreville High students are charged with extremely serious criminal offenses including aggravated sexual assault, which could result in several years of confinement in a juvenile justice facility.