Hold Schools Accountable for Bullying

Bill Michaelson's picture

In September 2002, the State of New Jersey enacted legislation that required schools to adopt policies to prevent and deal with incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying. In 2008, a Commission on Bullying in Schools was formed and submitted recommendations to update the law to the Governor the next year. In January 2011, the Governor signed into law the current Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) law. Acts of bullying were formally defined by the legislature and school districts are required to identify it and work to eliminate it. There is a well-defined process for reporting bullying and school districts must follow it. Let's examine what bullying is according to the State. Here is an excerpt from a Parent Guide published by the Department of Education. Note that I have highlighted some text like this:

Understanding Different Types of Bullying Behavior

Bullying can occur in many different ways. Bullying can be direct (“face to face”) or indirect (“behind someone’s back). The type of bullying can affect the way parents describe or approach their child or a school about a bullying incident. Generally, there are four types of bullying behaviors:

  • Verbal – Includes name calling, taunting, constant teasing or making threats;
  • Physical -– Includes hitting, punching, shoving, spitting, or taking or damaging personal belongings;
  • Psychological – Includes spreading rumors, purposefully keeping people from activities and breaking up friendships or other relationships; and
  • Electronic – Includes using the internet, mobile phone or other electronic equipment to intentionally harm others.

Here is an explanation of what components of an incident must exist to determine whether an incident is one of HIB, excerpted from the same document:

How is Bullying Defined in the ABR?

The ABR defines harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) as 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 an actual or perceived characteristic, such as:

  • Race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability or by any other distinguishing characteristic; and that
  • Takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, on a school bus, or
  • off school grounds, 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 or by severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm to the student.
  • (N.J.S.A. 18A:37-14)

OK, so what is the point?


The point is that many school administrators across New Jersey are committing acts of HIB in order to suppress the parent refusal movement that is resisting the imposition of PARCC testing. They are quite literally bullying children, according to the legal definition, as retribution for the political views of their parents. This is not ambiguous. There have been numerous reports of district administrators providing rewards (bribes) to children who participate in the PARCC testing programs while explicitly excluding the children of families that have stood behind their political beliefs regarding the PARCC test by refusing to allow their children to take the test. There have even been more serious abuses reported.

In their zeal to conform and comply and to measure up to what they believe are the expectations of the Department of Education, or perhaps to enforce their own belief that all families must comply with all dictates of the schools, these administrators have forgotten how to treat children respectfully, if they ever knew. So it is either cowardice or plain meanness - often concomitant attributes in bullies - that has driven these folks to ostracize children.

I don't believe we need to examine laws and regulations to know that what they have been doing is wrong. It should be apparent to every competent school administrator. But we can, because it's right there in code. Excluding a child from a group activity is insulting and demeaning and to do so because of a distinguishing characteristic such as the political beliefs of the child's parent is to commit a violation of the HIB law.

It's clear.

How do I go about this?

Typically, HIB complaints apply to incidents between children and are filed with school administrators for resolution. But HIB law applies to everyone in the school, including staff. So it can be awkward to file a complaint to be handled by the very person who is the perpetrator of the alleged violation. But that shouldn't stop you. Even the Department of Education might be uncooperative for obvious reasons. But here is their web page that provides guidance with HIB complaints. Or you can download this document of HIB assistance. Your district is obliged to report all HIB complaints to the Board of Education, and if you demand it, you are entitled to a hearing before the Board of Education.

You might encounter resistance or skepticism that these incidents fit the definition of HIB. I believe I have provided solid reasoning as to why these incidents of exclusion, and possibly similar practices, do fit the definition. State the facts and make the case. The HIB law is there to protect children (and others). Use it.

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Let the dissembling and heel-digging begin...

Bill Michaelson's picture

So parents around the state are calling out administrators for this bullying. The responses vary.

In the case of one district, we saw an attempt to redefine an act of exclusion retroactively as cover. The parent, who happens to be an attorney and education blogger describes that here. The practice has stopped there.

Then we have those in denial, such as the Logan school district which is insisting this is not HIB. I will be following events there as the HIB appeals proceed.