In a matter before the New Jersey Superior Court Law Division in Bergen County, parents brought several charges against the school district staff, administration, and the board of education after a claim of harassment, bullying and intimidation (HIB) was made against their child.
In 2019, after an incident in which the district’s anti-bullying coordinator and assistant principal investigated a matter involving three students and a cell phone, it was found that the student at issue had participated in an act of HIB and was given three days of detention. The matter moved through the district’s internal appeal processes and ultimately was heard by the board of education. The board rescinded the HIB finding. The student enrolled in a different school of his choosing for the 2019-2020 school year.
Nearly two years later, the parents of this student brought seven civil charges against the board of education and individual staff and administration. The essence of the charges alleged that the district’s HIB process itself resulted in the student being bullied by staff.
Among the charges filed, was a claim of “bullying” against the defendants under New Jersey’s HIB Law. The plaintiff parents sought monetary damages and alleged that defendants’ acts or omissions resulted in the student being bullied or harassed.
In a summary judgment, the judge dismissed this charge, saying that New Jersey does not recognize an independent tort claim for bullying, and even if it did, the plaintiffs have not pled a “cognizable claim. The New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights does not create or alter any tort liability.”
The judge clearly discerned that claims of HIB are properly brought before the New Jersey Commissioner of Education and not through the courts. The judge stated that it was improper for the parents to attempt to sidestep proper procedures by failing to file an appeal to the commissioner.
The judge added that the parents had failed to provide any facts to suggest that the student had been bullied by staff throughout the process. Rather, the district had followed its HIB processes and reached a conclusion based on the results of a thorough investigation.
More information about this case can be found at the following link.
Questions about this case should be discussed with your board attorney or NJSBA’s Department of Legal, Labor Relations, and Policy at (609) 278-5254.