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Anti-Bullying Task Force Chair Says Reported Bullying Incidents Significantly Dropped

2-4-14

New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights is being modified and the task force implementing it has issued the first of three annual reports. Anti-Bully Task Force Chair Patricia Wright told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that the number of bullying cases being reported has significantly dropped since last year.

The task force looked at the reports filed by schools and the Violence and Vandalism Reports and they show a decrease in the number of bullying cases being reported, Wright said.

Wright said that the point of the legislation is the raise awareness of the issues in schools, have schools implement the legislation and then parents have the right to pursue any questions they have about the determinations at the school or district level.

The job of the task force has been to clarify what the current legislation says and then clarify the components that are already in the legislation but are unclear in practice, Wright said.

An example Wright used is that the legislation calls for the principal to initiate the investigation and that means moving an issue to the anti-bullying specialist for investigation. Wright said that the task force has now said that there is a threshold decision that the principal is allowed to make based on the facts and go to the anti-bullying specialist, if the facts are true. If the principal finds that the facts are not true, then the incident can be handled through another code of conduct measure, Wright said.

“Not everything has to be filtered to the anti-bullying specialists for investigation,” Wright said.

Wright said one of the biggest difficulties faced with the legislation is determining what the difference is between bullying and normal social conflict. The law requires schools to look for distinguishing characteristics that motivate someone to bully someone else, she said.

What the legislation has failed to include, Wright said, is the power differentiation because an imbalance of power is the hallmark of bullying incidents.

“Once you look for an imbalance of power, you can look to determine what’s causing that imbalance of power. It can be anything from one person, one group being more popular than another — socioeconomic statuses are different — it can be a physical characteristic but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Research really talks about that,” Wright said.