Through the efforts of Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri-Huttle and others, New Jersey has one of the most thorough school anti-bullying programs in the nation. But while the existing legislation addresses how to handle student-on-student incidents, recent events have unfortunately revealed that there is also bullying of children, especially some of the most vulnerable, by teachers and other school employees.
Today, Senator Diane Allen held a press conference to announce that she is introducing legislation to address this issue. She said the bill would accelerate the process of investigating bullying allegations and reduce the time for resolution from several years to six weeks or less. The bill addresses the process for both tenured and non-tenured teachers.
School employees who are found to have bullied would lose not only their jobs, but also their certification.
No one can argue with the senator's goal of eliminating bullying. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions that will be discussed at hearings on this proposed legislation. The Commissioner of Education, no friend to public school teachers, has the final say on alleged incidents. Non-tenured teachers can be fired immediately upon recommendation by their superintendents. Teachers who are under investigation may lose their pay during that period, and that pay would be restored only if and when charges are dismissed (how many teachers can survive with six weeks of lost income?).
Assemblywoman Vanieri-Huttle told me today that while she has not yet had the opportunity to review the proposed legislation, she supports it in principal. "Any misconduct must be swiftly addressed", she said, regardless of whether it comes from a student or a teacher. She said that she will discuss the bill in detail after she has had a chance to review it.
The legislative process allows all stakeholders - students, teachers, parents, and administrators - to provide their input during the legislative hearings. As of posting time, the NJEA had not responded to Blue Jersey's request for comment. Below is Senator Allen's press conference in its entirety, including comments from a student who was bullied by a teacher; his parents; and the father of a Cherry Hill student who allegedly was bullied.