Panel Rules Anti-Bullying Law Unconstitutional
Claims state forced school districts to enforce law without providing funds
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 didn'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 the 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."
On Saturday evening, Assemblyman John McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey — both of the 27th District — issued a joint statement pledging their commitment to work "collectively and in a bipartisan manner" with other lawmakers and the Christie Administration to reinstate the law. McKeon and Jasey were both prime sponsors of the measure.