The recent firing of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice — after he allegedly exhibited abusive behavior during practices — has brought the issue of bullying back to the forefront. Patricia Wright, chair of the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force and executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, spoke with NJ Today’s David Cruz about what the task force is doing to help eliminate bullying in schools.
Wright said the Anti-Bullying Task Force doesn’t get involved in determining whether individual situations — like Rice’s tactics — are bullying or not. “What we are charged with is to examine the implementation of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights to suggest resources that schools can utilize to help them implement the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, possibly to draft some model regulations that we think will help schools to be able to implement that,” she said. “And if we need to, to suggest to the legislature possible changes to the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights itself in order to make implementation a more effective process.”
Funding has been a problem for schools to abide by the new rules. Wright explained that the task force was developed based on the first funding crisis. At that time, there was a fund put in place to help with implementation for one year. Wright said the task force will be examining the funding issue and resources going forward, but that hasn’t been done yet.
“The task force held its first meeting in July and we have just come out in January with our first report. That was only after 180 days of being a task force and being in business. So we’re still in the process of collecting a lot of information, a lot of data,” Wright said. “We’re holding public hearings. We’ve met with those who implement the law. We had focus groups of teachers, superintendents, principals, parents just to get information about how it was going.”
According to Wright, the new law has raised a lot of awareness about bullying and caused proactive action, but there have been challenges. “One of the things we talked about in the report is the confusion over the legal definition of bullying and how it’s not the most user-friendly definition for those in schools to implement,” she said.
Wright said that there might be more training needed in schools because the task force found many incidents that were investigated as bullying but were found not to be bullying. “They really were either social conflict or other code of conduct infractions. And so we can’t be pushing everything to investigation because everything is bullying. It certainly is not,” she said. “And so that’s what has to really be looked at.”
Wright said the public meetings have been beneficial. The final one is scheduled for April 11 at Blackwood High School. Participation from the public has been good, according to Wright. One of the issues that has come up has to do with schools’ anti-bullying specialists.
“There’s a sense that because in many schools the anti-bullying specialist is the guidance counselor or the student assistance counselor that there’s a conflict in roles there because normally those people are there to do guidance, to really work with students,” Wright said. “Being thrown into an investigation kind of a role has really been difficult for some of those people.”