Allen bill seeks to strengthen anti-bullying law

TRENTON – Taking steps to address an issue that is drawing increased attention, Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), Edgewater Park today said she would introduce legislation to make it easier to fire teachers who bully students.

Respecting an accused’s due process rights does not mean bullying allegations cannot be investigated more quickly, she said.

Her bill would build on the state’s Anti-Bullying law by mandating that among other things investigations must be conducted within four to 10 days by the district’s specialist, and after tenure charges are filed, an arbitration process with the Education commissioner must last no longer than 30 days.

The legislation was spurred in part by the news in Cherry Hill in which a parent caught teachers abusing his child via audio recording.

Under current law, such accused teachers can remain on the payroll pending disposition of the allegations, which can take a long amount of time.

“New Jersey has made it clear that we will not stand for the bullying of our children in our schools,’’ Allen said. She said New Jersey has the nation’s toughest anti-bullying law, but she said when the law was passed it was envisioned as a means to address bullying by students.  “We didn’t contemplate teachers being the bullies,’’ she said.

She said that the vast majority of teachers obviously  are good and care about what they are doing, but this bill will deal with the very few who do not belong around children.

Right now the process of investigation can take years and that is untenable, she said.

Currently a school has 10 days to conduct an investigation, but this bill would urge the district to complete it within four or five days if  at all possible.

Then a superintendent would have three days to file the charges.

Allen said she spoke with the N.J. Education Association Wednesday and they were not pleased with this proposal and felt their members are not getting due process.

Allen has pursued this issue for over a decade. She said when she first sponsored anti-bullying legislation in 2002 it merely said schools “should’’ do something, but the law and thinking has evolved to the point w here it is necessary to have  minimum standards in place, while still allowing communities and districts to have input.

“If we identify a bully we need to move swiftly,” she said.

Julio Artuz, a bullying victim of a teacher, said he endured name-calling and threats, and said “It was the lowest I’ve ever felt in my whole life. Nobody should have to go through that.” He said he was threatened with getting beat up every day.

And his mother, Joyce Artuz, said “We need to give children a voice.”

Their case involves a special education school and she said kids – especially those who cannot always speak for themselves – should not have to carry recording equipment to school to expose harmful teachers. 

And Stu Chaifetz talked of his son’s case and said, “Schools are supposed to be fertile ground where they can grow into healthy individuals. If some good can come out of these tragedies we witnessed then it is to make people aware, and congratulate the good teachers and get rid of the ones who are not good.’’

He said people worldwide have poured out their compassion over this incident, and he urged the Legislature to act swiftly.

He believes the teacher in his son’s case is on administrative leave but could not provide further details.

Allen bill seeks to strengthen anti-bullying law