Anti-Bullying Task Force Issues Report and Recommendations

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On December 28, 2023, the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force, created by P.L. 2019, c. 179, issued its Report  after six months of deliberations.  The 11-member Task Force, whose membership included former NJPSA Executive Director Patricia Wright, was charged with:


  • Examining and evaluating the effectiveness of the implementation of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, (ABR) P.L. 2010, c. 122, N.J.SA. 18A:37-13.2 et seq.;
  • Examining any unintended consequences resulting from ABR implementation, regulations and impacts on individuals including athletic coaches; and
  • Developing recommendations to modify or update the ABR.


The Task Force met with a broad range of stakeholder groups, reviewed current data on bullying incidents in schools, met with specific focus groups engaged in implementing the ABR and held two public hearings to gather evidence to inform their recommendations. An important statistic highlighted in the Report, is that during the post-COVID return to in-school learning during the 2021-22 school year, there were 19,138 HIB investigations in our schools and 7.672 confirmed cases of HIB!


NJPSA and FEA actively participated in the work of the Task Force through:


  • A presentation by FEA staff members David Nash, Esq. and Mike Kaelber, Esq. on the ABR and the case law implementing the statute in New Jersey;
  • A focus group of NJPSA members met with Task Force members to discuss issues related to the implementation of the ABR in our schools;
  • The submission of the results of a  NJPSA Survey on ABR Implementation, sharing the input of nearly 200 active NJPSA members;
  • Written testimony submitted by Debra Bradley, Esq. including our members’ perspectives and recommendations to the Task Force.


Task Force Recommendations


1 Definition of HIB

To address ongoing confusion about the legal definition of harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) in our schools, the Task Force renewed a recommendation of the prior ABR Task Force to modify the definition of HIB in state regulations to include the concept of power differential as a method of understanding and distinguishing the motivating characteristic of the aggressor.  Specifically, the Task Force recommends the inclusion of the following language:  “A statement that bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”


2 DOE Guidance

The Task Force recommends that the NJDOE issue formal guidance to assist educators in understanding the importance of a power imbalance in HIB cases, the role of School Climate Teams, the development of age appropriate guidance on the HIB process, the impact of social media in HIB cases,  and other implementation issues detailed in the Report.


3 Hazing

The Task Force reiterates that the HIB definition in the ABR includes hazing incidents.


4 Principal’s Preliminary Determination

The Task Force supported the continued use of the tool of a preliminary determination by a school principal, if the board of education authorizes this tool in board policy. Additionally, the Task Force reinforces the principal’s consideration of the social and emotional status and relationships of the students involved.  The Task Force recommended the use of the Threshold Assessment Checklist attached as Appendiz A (and developed by NJPSA/FEA Legal One) to assist in the use of the preliminary determination process.


5 School Counselors as Anti-bullying Specialists (ABS)

In the NJPSA survey, many members cited the negative impacts on staff counseling relationships with students where the school counselor, psychologist, or social worker  is also the ABS.  The Task Force acknowledged these impacts and re-emphasized a prior Task Force recommendation to avoid using these individuals as the ABS.  The Task Force offered no recommended solutions on who should perform this work instead.


6 School Safety/Climate Teams

The Task Force recommends a re-focusing of these teams on a broader view of school climate issues, not simply HIB data review.  Specifically, the Task Force recommends the development of yearly school climate improvement plans, with clear goals and action steps,  the collection of data on climate including the use of the NJ School Climate Improvement Platform (NJ SCI), monthly meetings of the School Climate Teams, and the inclusion of district school climate improvement plans in the monitoring process. Annual training requirements on this enhanced role, which includes Anti-bullying coordinators, is also recommended.


7 School Climate State Coordinator

Due to the important and comprehensive role of the state level position of School Climate State Coordinator created by the latest amendments to the ABR, the Task Force acknowledges that one individual cannot effectively perform this role. The Task Force recommends that the State Coordinator lead a newly established Office of School Climate within the DOE to assist districts, parents and students.


8 Staff and Peer Mentors

The Task Force recommends that districts establish a program of staff and peer mentoring relationships to promote a positive climate and support individual students.


9 Social Media

NJPSA members strongly discussed the role of social media in cases of alleged bullying and the investigative barriers raised by the use of social media.  The Task Force agreed. The Task Force would elevate the role of a newly-created legislative Commission on the Effects of Social Media Usage on Adolescents to study the role of social media and HIB, and to develop guidance to assist schools, students, and families. The Task Force further recommends that the NJSLS be updated to include instruction on age-appropriate digital citizenship instruction for grades K-12.  


10 Professional Learning

The Task  Force recommends that NJSIAA and other statewide education associations continue to develop professional learning opportunities that target hazing and the role that sports play in the development of a positive school climate and culture. Additionally, the Task Force recommends enhanced annual training on HIB, its processes, school climate issues, and the role of the School Climate Team to targeted groups of school staff and to all school staff members in some areas.



In addition to issuing more guidance, the Task Force recommends that the NJDOE provide further support to districts to ensure that they are able to provide state HIB reporting forms and information regarding student, staff, and parent rights under the ABR to families in their primary language. 


12 School Board Role

The Task Force discussed the role of local school boards in HIB cases, effectively recommending that boards of education continue to engage with HIB instances on a policy level, not individual case level.  The Task Force recommends that the NJDOE, in consultation with the School Climate State Coordinator, review and assess the effectiveness and role of school boards under administrative code and the ABR.


13 Coaches

The Task Force was charged with exploring any disproportionate impacts of the ABR on coaches.  The Task Force noted the important role that coaches play in school climate and recommends that coaches be included in the composition of School Climate Teams where appropriate.   Noting the trends of “weaponization” of the ABR by parents toward school staff, including coaches, the Task Force recommends training for all school staff members around HIB and hazing.


14 Funding

The Task Force recommends that funding be made available by the Legislature to the Bullying Prevention Fund and through additional sources, to promote effective implementation of the ABR. This fund has not been funded since 2015!  Additionally, the costs of implementing the ABR (training, ABS, ABC positions, etc. ) are not included in the calculation of the Adequacy Budget included for each school.  Any changes to school funding formula allocations of state aid should be re-calculated to include these costs common to all New Jersey school districts. 


Next Steps

The Task Force Report was submitted to the Governor and the State Legislature for review and consideration.  NJPSA will keep you informed of any developments in this area.  We thank every NJPSA member who participated in the Task Force’s review of the ABR.  Your expertise is critical to this process!