The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights is one of the most consequential laws for New Jersey public schools in years, though hardly the most flexible. That's led some state officials to look for ways to make the measure less of a burden on schools.
What changes, if any, will be suggested remains to be seen. But the law's supporters are standing firm that any modifications will need to come in administrative guidelines and not to the law itself.
"We're not revisiting the bill itself, or its intent," said state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the law's primary sponsors, who has been part of the early discussions.
The legislation enacted last spring -- considered by some as the toughest in a slew of anti-bullying laws sweeping the country -- requires that districts follow strict protocols to prevent, identify, and address complaints of harassment and bullying both in and outside school.
But as the law has seen its first tests, worries have been raised as to whether it is too inflexible and burdensome on districts. Fixed timeliness for reporting and investigating complaints have been among the issues, as well as demands for specific staff in each school and district.
One district has filed a formal challenge that the new law represents an unfunded mandate on schools, potentially forcing the state to provide thousands of dollars in additional funding to every district.
After two months, the concerns have been heard in Trenton. Acting education commissioner Chris Cerf last week spoke at the state's school boards and administrators convention about the law as an example of the kinds of requirements on schools that can prove a tricky balance.
"Yes, the intent is great and, yes, it speaks to a problem that we as citizens need to collectively address," Cerf told the group's meeting in Atlantic City. "But we also need to learn from actual execution to find ways to achieve noble ends while being less burdensome and more effective in what we do."
And quietly, the state Board of Education has taken up the call. Led by its vice president, Ilan Plawker, the first discussions have taken place to find ways to address the concerns about the guidelines issued by the department.