Sponsors of the state’s tough new anti-bullying law vowed to continue to fight for the law Friday after it was deemed unconstitutional because the state did not provide money to implement it.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle D-Bergen, a lead sponsor of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, called the decision by the state Council on Local Mandates devastating for bullied children.
“Rest assured we will review the decision thoroughly to find a way to make this law workable for everyone,” she said.
The Council on Local Mandates was created pursuant to the “State Mandate, State Pay” amendment to the New Jersey Constitution. Under the Constitution, if the council so rules, an unfunded mandate ceases to be mandatory and expires.
The council struck down the law as an unfunded state mandate at a hearing Friday based on a complaint filed by the school district in Warren County, according to Vainieri Huttle and a published report in The Record, Bergen County. The council has not yet issued a written decision; the ruling does not take effect until it does.
The state maintained in its response to the complaint that aid provided to school districts would cover the costs of the law and that existing staff could fill the required anti-bullying coordinator and specialist positions.
However, Allamuchy’s board said there were new costs in implementing new anti-bullying programs and providing training, and to pay stipends to staff named to the new positions.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, another sponsor of the law, said she will work on a revised version, but noted that many districts have implemented the law with no problems and she hoped those efforts would not be abandoned.
“It is extremely disappointing that something as common sense as protecting our kids and making school a safe, nurturing environment has been so quickly tossed aside,” she said.
The bill was signed into law in January 2011 and took effect in September. While there was agreement that bullying should be addressed, school officials expressed concerns about both time and costs involved in requiring specially designated staff to investigate every potential incident of bullying. At a workshop of school administrators in October there were discussions about proposing modifications to the law.
The New Jersey School Boards Association had begun a plan to gather data on district costs for implementing the bill. Executive Director Marie S. Bilik issued a statement Friday saying they would work with the Legislature and the Department of Education to design a process that protects children without having to divert funds from other programs.
“The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights is a well-intentioned statute designed to ensure that no child is ever afraid to go to school because of harassment or intimidation,” Bilik said. “Unfortunately, the legislation required more work prior to enactment, including consideration of the financial and staffing burdens placed on local school districts.”
According to the state Department of Education’s annual report on violence in schools, 3,412 incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying were reported in 2010-2011, up from 2,808 in 2009-2010, an increase of more than 20 percent.
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