Embroiled Anti-Bullying Law Already Part of Red Bank Legacy
Despite a state committee ruling that anti-bulling legislation is unconstitutional, Red Bank officials say the lessons they've learned will continue.
Regardless of the outcome of a state panel’s ruling that recent anti-bullying legislation is unconstitutional, Red Bank School District Superintendent Laura Morana said the law has left an indelible mark on the local school system and changed how educators respond to bullying.
The Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying, or HIB, Law, went into effect at the beginning of the school year. Well intentioned as it may be, districts throughout the state found themselves struggling to keep up with the rules and regulations of the new anti-bullying law, which made significant demands on staff while providing no additional funding.
Late last week, the Council on Local Mandates handed down its decision and put the future of the anti-bullying law in doubt. Effectively, there are 60 days with which changes can be made before the legislation is lifted.
Though not all school districts participated equally under the new law, those that did, like Red Bank, find themselves left with a slew of programs and planned assemblies generated since the law reached the governor’s desk and earned his signature. Still, Morana said the progress the Red Bank School District has made has been mostly positive and has helped, she believes, develop a greater understanding of bullying. It’s also made it that much more preventable.
“We worked very closely with the school community to draft regulations to comply with the law,” she said. “We knew we were dealing with some challenges when it came to the new law: the timeline, staffing. One of the things I will say is that in a short period of time the level of awareness has been raised at the student level, the teacher level, and the parent level.”
The primary issue with the new legislation is the burden it places on school administrations. Morana said to effectively enforce the law to the letter would likely require the district to create a new position just to handle the process of producing paperwork, investigating the incident, reporting the incident, and generally finding a way to make the somewhat cumbersome system work.
During an interview late in 2011, Morana said the district was struggling a bit to follow all of the law’s associated procedures but that it was doing its best. That work put in thus far, even if the law is eliminated, has produced some positive results, she feels.
“The focus on intervention and the issues that may manifest themselves into various forms of bullying is not going away for us in terms of preparation and our response,” she said.
Another bonus of the law has been the student response. This school year, Red Bank unveiled a student-led organization called the Anti-Bullying Squad, which has proven to be an unintended compliment to the HIB legislation. Founded by eighth-grade student Elijah Gray, the group and its nearly 50 participants seeks to spread awareness about bullying by educating and being proactive.
Should the HIB law go away, ABS won’t, Morana stressed.
“I know it will continue to be a part of our school. What the kids have created is something that will be sustained,” she said. “The membership has grown, and even though our administrator (Gray) is moving on to the high school, the momentum will continue.”