Panel Rules Anti-Bullying Law Unconstitutional

Council on Local Mandates says law doesn't provide funding for schools to meet new rules.

A new anti-bullying law that went into effect in September, requiring schools to spend more time on training, paperwork, investigations and hearings, was found unconstitutional by a state panel on Friday because the law doesn't provide funding for schools to satisfy the new rules, officials announced.

The ruling goes into effect in 60 days. The lead sponsor of the law, which was seen as one of the toughest in the nation, said legislators will try to find a way to make it work for everyone.

The state Council on Local Mandates issued the ruling Friday after hearing a case brought by Warren County's Allamuchy school district, which argued the law was unconstitutional because it was an "unfunded mandate" that diverted resources from other areas.

School board members who supported Allamuchy's position said the challenge to the law has nothing to do with the spirit of the law, which they said is well-intentioned, but it shows the state it has to be careful about issuing new requirements at a time when budgets are strained.

Some school officials have said the law is unnecessarily complex and districts can accomplish the same mission with less paperwork.

The executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association said the association would welcome the opportunity to work with the state to design a process that has adequate state financial support and doesn't divert resources from other critical 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,” association executive director Marie S. Bilik said.  “Unfortunately, the legislation required more work prior to enactment, including consideration of the financial and staffing burdens placed on local school districts.”

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the lead sponsor of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, said the decision is "devastating" for bullied students and that she hopes the council's decision won't dilute districts' commitment to preventing bullying. She said she applauds the districts that have been working to implement the new law.

"This rarely used, shadowy fourth branch of government voted behind closed doors to dismantle a law sponsored by two-thirds of the legislature and approved and signed into law by the governor," she said in a news release. "Rest assured we will review the council's decision thoroughly to find a way to make this law workable for everyone."

The anti-bullying law was sparked by the 2010 suicide of a Rutgers University freshman whose roommate allegedly used a webcam to video him with another man.

This post is shared across Patch sites serving Morris, Somerset and Sussex communities. Comments below may be by readers of any of those sites.

North Vale January 28, 2012 at 05:22 AM
Does this body deal just with BOE items? I would love them to review some of the other mandates that townships are forced to abide by.
Jake Remaly (Editor) January 28, 2012 at 11:14 AM
It also deals with municipal and county items. More info about the Council on Local Mandates available here: http://www.state.nj.us/localmandates/
Richard January 28, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Finally someone in Trenton has a head on their shoulders. They just can't keep mandating programs while putting a cap on spending.
Pete January 28, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Bullying is a fact of life. Learning how to cope with bullying is a useful part of growing up. This effort to mandate/legislate good behavior is ridiculous; and WHO will decide what constitutes "bullying" ? Oh... I see... a "blue-ribbon panel", who will receive absurdly high pay (unfunded pay, btw) for their wheelspinning.
buddy January 28, 2012 at 08:31 PM
The attitude that bullying is a part of life is its own indictment of society. It is not ever acceptable and no one should ever be afraid to go to school and no parent should ever find his/her child hanging from a tree limb because of it. You cannot begin to imagine the torment some kids endure day after day after day. Most of the time, it's really easy to determine who the bullies are and they need to be stopped. That said, Richard makes a good point. With the 2% budget cap and rising costs (utilities, transportation, special ed., etc.), there are going to be many changes in public education including program and teacher cut backs which will yield much larger classes.
Sir January 28, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Bullying a "fact of life"? - if someone bullys my child - I will take matters into my own hands....and that is a "fact of life"....and then I will move on to their parents if they condone bullying....and that is another "fact of life".
Elaine January 28, 2012 at 11:13 PM
My son just started kindergarten and within 20 days of school starting he was being bullied by a 2nd grader... This is our first child entering the school system and I do not know of this student nor of his parents... But most of your comments suggesting "taking matter into my own hands" or "learning how to cope with bullying" is just ridiculous. I think most people assume the kids are in middle or high school, well they are not! I was notified by the principle and teacher as soon as they were made aware of the problem. I believe a policy needs to be in place to protect ALL students!
Elaine January 28, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Should have mentioned in the above.. My child does not attend the hopatcong school district.
cv January 29, 2012 at 12:49 AM
@ Pete I hope you have a kid that kids bullied and commits suicide like so many others and tell me its a fact of life
Sheryl Newman January 29, 2012 at 02:40 AM
You sound like an uninformed bully yourself with no understanding of what it is like to walk in the halls at school and a kid or two is behind you laughing, trying to trip you and calling you names. I don't know what your ethnic background is, but it was not so long ago, that Italians, Irish, Jews, blacks, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, Hispanics...were all called something...ask your parents or grandparents what they remember about being bullied by others just because of your ethnic background. And, next time, when you comment try to sound smarter.....
Hookerman January 29, 2012 at 03:23 AM
So how exactly will you take matters into your own hands??? Are you going to beat up a 10 year old kid? Let us know when you're out of prison.
Mark Rabtzow January 29, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Wow... cv is the meanest commenter I've ever seen on patch - I'll go so far to say a bully. I've never seen anyone wish a child to be abused, and become so emotionally damaged that they take their own life. cv - be more positive in life. Start out by apologizing. Unfortunately, bullying does occur, and it may be referred to as a fact of life. There is no form of legislation from the state which will cure it, though. Take murder, as an example, it is "against the law", yet we still have murders. Once again, if we look at what are the best ways to prevent this problem, they all start with family values and bringing children up properly.
Karin Swenson Szotak January 29, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Although I believe the state should be funding mandates, I don't see the state funding many of the mandates, especially when the state aid to suburban districts have decreased to almost nothing. To declare HIB law unconstitutional, is a slap in the face to all children and their parents who have been victims of bullies. And why not look at all the mandates that are not funded? Why just this one?
cv January 29, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Let my start by apoligizing for my comment. I did not mean it that way. My point is bullying has killed some kids. It was diffeernt many years ago there was no social media to do it in. It is a big problem for our kids today. When your child is hurt that why you lash out such as I did. Please accept my apology for my heartless comment.
LV Mom January 29, 2012 at 02:38 PM
As someone who has dealt with this issue recently, I can say I am frustrated with the fact that the incident was deemed NOT bullying. As usual what one person considers bullying, another person (or panel) does not. This encompasses A LOT of things, not just race, threats or fighting any more, and needs to be addressed as such.
cv January 29, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I can understand your pain . It breaks our hearts that we cant help our kids all the time. That is where our frustration is.
Sir January 29, 2012 at 03:51 PM
And I stand by my original posting - if my son were to be bullied and the school system was aware and did nothing to address it, I would take matters into my own hands.
Judy L January 29, 2012 at 04:53 PM
I "took matters into my own hands" since the school & bus drivers did nothing to stop the bullying. I don't recommend it; next day my kid would suffer more from bullies. Discuss situation with the parent? No, some parents scream bloody murder at their kids & again our kid pays for it. Years of self-inflicting wounds, suicide attempts, eating disorder & hospitalization, a parent breaks just like their kid whose being bullied. So exactly what do we do? Educate ourselves so we can give our kids back their life. You take your kid into St.Clare's ER for a "psych eval." They take charge from there. Whatever it takes, you as the parent must do it for your kid. Leave the public school system & get them into Therapeutic schools. SPAN will educate you on that. St. Clare's CCIS will keep your kid from harming themselves while they are there in intensive therapy. By the way, at any given time there are 10 to 30 kids in there from Northern NJ, all victims of bullies. All suicidal. St. Mary's Residential in Passaic (6month live in facility) run by none other than DYFS will ultimately save your childs' life. As for us parents who went through this with our kids? Well, we break a bit along the way, we exhaust ourselves in dealing with this reality. But I would do it again in a heartbeat to save my child or yours.
Laura Madsen January 30, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Hi, This article inspired me to write this blog on Patch. Come on over. Here's the link: http://hillsborough.patch.com/blog_posts/picking-on-the-anti-bullying-laws
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