The New Jersey Department of Education issued an updated ‘Questions and Answers (Q&A) document related to the Anti-Bullying Bill of Right Act (ABBR).’
Last released in 2012, the updated document released is directly informed by the work of the Anti-Bullying Taskforce’s work with schools as well as Department of Education efforts. The document is intended to provide districts and families with answers to frequently asked questions about the ABR, including the:
- definition of harassment, intimidation or bullying (HIB);
- the principal’s role in the investigatory process;
- incidents where a staff member is the alleged offender; and
- coordination between school HIB investigations and criminal investigations.
Principal As Gateway
One of the biggest changes relates to the principal’s role in the investigatory process. Under the revised Q&A document the principal or his/her designee may be empowered by Board of Education (BOE) policy to serve as the conduit for determining whether an allegation meets the threshold definition of HIB before initiating an investigation. Similarly, the guidance also indicates that whether a principal or his/her designee initiates an investigation upon receipt of all reports of alleged HIB, or initiates an investigation only in those cases where he/she determines that the allegations meet the threshold definition of HIB, depends on the HIB policy adopted by the BOE.
Further, the guidance indicates that a student may be a victim of HIB if a gesture, written, verbal, or physical act, or electronic communication is motivated by “any other distinguishing characteristic,” e.g., weight” in addition to other protected categories (race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability).
In addition, the guidance makes clear that ABBR’s definition of HIB may, in certain circumstances, encompass behaviors associated with hazing (N.J.S.A. 18A:37-14).
Finally, the guidance outlines what to do when a staff member is identified as an alleged offender in an HIB incident. It indicates that the ABBR applies to HIB committed by an adult or youth against a student. In this instance, all of the procedural requirements in the ABBR apply regardless of whether the alleged offender is an adult or youth. Further, when an investigation involves a staff member of the same bargaining unit, if there is an appearance of impropriety or a conflict of interest (including the appearance of one), the guidance makes clear that it may be appropriate for the investigation to be conducted by an individual who is not a member of the same bargaining unit as the alleged offender.