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Call Today: (201) 445-8381

Education Law

Hackensack Education Attorney

Portrait of happy pupil at lessonNew Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (ABBRA) of New Jersey is the most comprehensive anti-bullying statute in the country. The law provides thorough guidelines aimed at preventing, mitigating, and punishing offenses of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination. Specifically, ABBRA requires that schools establish a safety team and an anti-bullying specialist that functions to create the safe environment that children are entitled to when they go to school. Schools are also required to establish specific procedures for investigating bullying, keeping parents aware of incidents of bullying, and reporting bullying to state officials.

 

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination

Similar to ABBRA, the NJ Law Against Discrimination (LAD) also sets forth specific guidelines that prohibit the discrimination or bullying of a student due to certain protected characteristics. The LAD prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Discrimination can also take place based on a perceived protected class. We often see such examples due to a student’s perceived sexual orientation or disability.

The difference between ABBRA and LAD

Bullying protection under the LAD differs from the protections afforded pursuant to the ABBRA.  LAD offers no protections against bullying for any non-enumerated characteristics, in other words, you have to be a member of a protected class.  On the other hand, the ABBRA provides protection to students whenever a student is targeted for any other distinguishing characteristic. Protection under LAD is not automatic. Although the LAD recognizes a cause of action against a school district for student-on-student harassment, there is no strict liability standard for holding a school responsible for this type of harassment. Instead, a school district must have known or should have known about the harassment, failing to take reasonable steps to end the offensive conduct. The LAD applies to all public schools, charter schools, private schools, technical or vocational schools, colleges, and universities. The LAD does not include schools that are operated or maintained by a bona fide religious or sectarian institution. Because of the LAD’s differences to the ABBRA and the exceptions it provides, it may be difficult to determine whether an instance of bullying is applicable under the LAD. An experienced lawyer can help determine the applicability of the LAD to a claim of bullying and help enforce a victim’s rights.

A New Jersey school’s responsibility

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (ABBRA) of New Jersey requires school districts to adopt a policy that prohibits harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) on school property, at school-sponsored functions, and on school vehicles. This comprehensive policy must provide specific, detailed information regarding how a school plans to address bullying. At a minimum, the policy must contain a statement explicitly prohibiting HIB conduct, a listing of definitions for all relevant terms, a description of expected student behavior, an outline of consequences for bullying, a procedure to report acts of bullying, a procedure to investigate reported bullying, protections for those who report bullying, a description of the consequences for falsely reporting bullying, and ways in which the school district intends to let students, parents, and faculty know about the policy.

Schools must also establish several positions to handle bullying. School superintendents must appoint an anti-bullying coordinator. He or she is responsible for maintaining policies designed to prevent bullying, coordinating anti-bullying efforts throughout the district’s schools, and providing data related to HIB offenses to parents and state officials. Each school’s principal is responsible for choosing an anti-bullying specialist. An anti-bullying specialist is a position typically held by the school’s guidance counselor or school psychologist. He or she is responsible for leading the investigation of HIB incidents and identifying ways to prevent bullying. Furthermore, each school must establish a school safety team comprised of at least one senior administrator or principal, one teacher, and one parent. The school safety team is responsible for reviewing bullying allegations and investigations to identify patterns of harassment or deficiencies in school policy. The school safety team is also responsible for educating the school community on issues related to bullying. In addition to all of these requirements, schools must also hold a “week of respect” during the first week of October in order to educate students about bullying-related issues.

Action when a school does not uphold their obligation

If a child has become the victim of bullying, and the school has failed to reasonably address the situation as specified by the ABBRA and the LAD, further action can be taken by filing an appeal to the state’s commissioner of education or even the New Jersey Superior Court. Although these options exist, determining whether a claim is valid and taking the appropriate steps to make sure a claim is properly managed can become a complicated legal matter. These complex matters often require counseling of experienced attorney who knows the anti-bulling law and can help you enforce your child’s rights.

IEP and Section 504 issues

Students with special needs are entitled to certain accommodations that help them succeed or better their quality of life in a school setting. There are legal requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to acquire the assistance your child may need. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a child is covered if their disability is listed in the statute. There is an extensive list of disabilities that qualify and schools must offer accommodations to better the academic experience of those students.

Section 504 is different as it covers a child with any disability. According to section 504, a parent must merely show that the disability has a substantial on a major life activity. It covers a range of children and offers accommodations to better the lives of these children. A child who has trouble walking and uses a wheelchair qualifies under section 504. A child with ADHD and even those allergic to peanuts are covered under section 504. A 504 plan will allow parents and schools to collaborate in order to better the academic life of the student.

Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act offer students accommodations to better their academic success. An Individual Education Program (IEP) is one accommodation that is offered to students who need extra assistance in the classroom. IEPs function as a group effort with the student at the center. A group of teachers, administration, mental health professional, school representatives, and others who are important to the process will collaborate to meet the individual needs of the child. Schools are also obligated to offer other accommodations to students under New Jersey state law. These may include special transportation, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech services.

A school’s bottom line is to save money and work with their budget. Parents often have to advocate on behalf of their child in order to acquire these accommodations. Schools won’t fight parents on most issues, but parents may have to do some legwork in establishing a need for their children’s services. If you need passionate advocacy related to IEPs and section 504, contact Debra F. Schneider, Esq.

Contact a Hackensack law firm to advocate for your child

Debra F. Schneider, Esq. has years of experience working with education law and protecting the rights of students who face discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying. No student deserves to be treated differently because of a protected class and no one deserves to learn in a hostile environment with the threat of bullying. In addition, Debra F. Schneider, Esq. works with families who need passionate advocacy for special services, including ones covered under section 504. If you need our legal services, contact Debra F. Schneider, Esq.

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