The new anti-bullying law that went into effect in school districts across New Jersey this fall "overreaches" according to Dr. Brian Osborne, Superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District, at the Board of Education meeting on Oct. 17.
In response to a complaint by a district parent, Osborne said that the district is grappling with the impact of the law — although he and district staff certainly support its intent. "We definitely need to protect all our kids and be vigilant about bullying," Osborne later told Patch.
During the public comment portion of the Board of Education meeting, the parent of a district elementary school student told the superintendent and board members about her child's experience with the new law.
According to the parent, her daughter was pulled out of a physical education class on Sept. 19 by two social workers. Her child was interviewed by the workers without the prior knowledge of the parents based upon "one child's word." The parent said that the workers "found no evidence of bullying" but that the episode was upsetting to her daughter who did not have a history of disciplinary problems.
The parent told the Board of Education, "This policy can be used by bullies against others." She added, "There is a need [for the law] but taking it out of the teacher's hands and elevating it to the state level" was not the answer. The parent said she still did not know what her daughter had been accused of and had been told she would not know until the Board of Education had reviewed the complaint report.
Superintendent Osborne thanked the parent. "Your statement is excellent," said Osborne. "Unfortunately, you and your daughter are not alone, and the district is not alone in grappling with this issue."
Osborne added, "The law overreaches in detailing out the reporting and giving time frames. The adults in our district were following the law but the law overreaches."
District In-House Counsel Jessica G. de Koninck explained that "what works at the high school level is not good for the elementary level." She added, "This needs to be addressed on the legislative level."
Board member Mark Gleason urged the parent to share her experience with State Assembly leaders.