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Warshaw Law Firm, advocating for the educational rights of special needs children, is dedicated to protecting the rights of children with disabilities and children who are the victims of or accused of bullying, and assisting families in crisis through mediation and collaborative divorce.
High school students in their first year American Sign Language class had an assignment to create a music video interpreting the meaning of a song. They chose to cover the topic of bullying in schools. They depicted typical scenarios which take place in schools around the country regarding bullying incidents. Check out their YouTube video:
In the past, harassment, intimidation or bullying was described as “boys will be boys,” that it is a “rite of passage,” and that it is inevitable, it is the nature of children, and that it is a growing experience that builds character. Today, bullying has become a serious issue in schools throughout our country and has been the root cause of many teen suicides. Changing the traditional views about and recognizing when bullying is occurring, have been a challenge for society.
Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the difference between bullying and conflict. Bullying is negative acts that are intended to harm, the negative acts can be in person or not, direct or indirect, including electronic, (Email, text, Internet), there is an imbalance of power, many times there is a pattern and not just a single incident, although bullying can be a single incident, and most bullying occurs in schools between children who know each other in that settings.
Conflict typically involves two or more students each, acting against each other, it is more mutual in actions, rather than one sided. School Culture and Climate is one of the most important factors in whether or not bullying will occur, the climate is how the school “feels” and it is a function of the school “culture,” which is how the school does things there. Adult behavior is the primary factor in school culture, how the decisions are made, modeling behavior, and control within the school.
When we think of the purpose of the New Jersey Anti-Bullying statute, “ABBR” we think of protections for students at school so that they feel safe. This law came about because the Legislature wanted to try to reduce the staggering number of suicides among students as a result of being bullied. The New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Statute defines what constitutes harassment, intimidation, and bullying, “HIB,” as meaning any gesture, any written, verbal, or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national original, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic, that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, on a school bus, or off school grounds as provided for in section 16 of P.L. 2010, c. 122 (C. 18:37-15.3), that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students and that a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or damaging the student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm to his person or damage to his property; or has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students; or creates a hostile educational environment for the student by interfering with a student’s education.
A Hostile Educational Environment is defined under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination as being discriminatory conduct that would not have occurred “but for” the student’s protected characteristic, that a reasonable student of the same age, maturity level, and protected characteristic would consider sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive school environment that the school district failed to reasonably address.
The ABBR requires the school districts to comply with reporting requirements, implement school safety teams, timelines, parent involvement and communication, address bullying related to but not at the school, they must conduct a complete investigation, and pay attention to vulnerable populations. The schools must provide consequences or remedial responses reasonably calculated to end HIB behavior. They must also take into consideration the overall climate and culture of the school. School districts are required to post their HIB policies and reporting requirements on the main page of their websites and if they have a specific form that they require in order to file an HIB Complaint, that must also be accessible on their website. School staff and administrators and even volunteers, must go through HIB training as well as programs must be implemented for students to learn about HIB.
School safety teams must be formed by the district to develop and implement positive school climate and they must meet at least twice per year. They include the principal or the principal’s designee, the school anti-bullying specialist, parents, and others determined by the principal. Their job is to educate the students and staff, participate in the training, and identify patterns of HIB. The school must be trained to recognize HIB, how to handle a bullying situation to avoid reoccurrences, and the standards and timelines that need to be followed.
When you have a child with special needs and an IEP or a 504 Plan, that child does not lose his/her rights under special education law to a manifestation determination hearing. A manifestation determination hearing is one that the school is required to conduct before any consequences are imposed on a child with disabilities to determine if the actions they are accused of doing are manifestations of their disabilities. If they are, then they are not supposed to be punished for their disabilities or manifestations therefrom. This does not typically occur in situations involving HIB investigations or findings although the statute does specifically refer to these students not losing their rights. In addition, oftentimes school officials impose consequences or punishments on students with or without disabilities before the HIB investigation is completed. This could and has resulted in students being punished for actions they are accused of but did not actually commit.
For more information about the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, your rights as a victim or an accused bully, and how to take a stand against bullying as these high school students did, please contact the Warshaw Law Firm, LLC at (973) 433-2121 or visit our website at www.WarshawLawFirm.com.