At the conclusion of the 2021-22 New Jersey Legislative Session, two pieces of legislation with direct connections to school safety and security were passed. In the aftermath of recent acts of school violence nationally and highly publicized hazing incidents in New Jersey, these new laws will impact the way school staff and students practice emergency responses and enhance reporting, investigation, compliance, and consequences for harassment, intimidation, and bullying incidents in schools.
School Security Drills A-5727/S-3726. The purpose of the bill is to ensure students’ well-being during school security drills by implementing measures that must be taken before, during, and after school security drills. The legislation is intended to ensure that drill protocols take into consideration the impact of the drills on the mental health of students, while continuing the safety preparations for students.
A-5727/S-3726 requires the following guidance and procedures for school districts conducting school security drills:
- Drills will include clear, and developmentally and age-appropriate messaging to students and staff at the conclusion of the drill that the event is a drill and no current danger exists
- Drills cannot include the use of fake blood, real or prop firearms, or the simulations of gun shots, explosions, or other sounds or visuals that may induce panic or a traumatic response from a student or school district employee
- Drills must be accessible to students with disabilities and mental health conditions, and provides all necessary accommodations for these students
- School districts shall provide written notification to the parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the district following completion of a school security drill, which notice shall be provided to the parent or guardian by no later than the end of the school day on which the school security drill is conducted
- School districts may permit emergency personnel access to the buildings and grounds of its schools for school security drills that are scheduled outside of school hours and during such times as students are not present
- District shall review and update their school security drill procedures using a process that coincides with the review of the school safety and security plan and collects input from emergency personnel, parents and guardians of students enrolled in the district, teachers and staff employed in the district, mental health professionals, and student government representatives from multiple grade levels
- School districts will annually track data on such measures and information as are required by the Commissioner of Education, and shall report the data to the commissioner
Anti-Bullying Law Revisions S-1790/A-1662. The bill changes the state’s anti-bullying law and improves harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) prevention, reporting and investigation by:
- Enhancing penalties for cyber harassment
- Creating the funded position of school climate state coordinator in the New Jersey Department of Education to provide HIB information and resources.
- Requiring the superintendent to provide annually to the board of education information on the number of times a preliminary determination was made that an incident or complaint was outside the scope of the definition of harassment, intimidation, or bullying for the purposes of the State’s monitoring of the school district.
- Specifying the consequences for a student who commits an act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
- Requiring the principal shall keep a written record of the date, time, and manner of notification to the parents or guardians.
- Requiring written reports to the principal be on a numbered form developed by the Department of Education. A copy of the form shall be submitted promptly by the principal to the superintendent of schools. The form shall be completed even if a preliminary determination is made under the school district’s policy.
- Requiring the school district shall provide a means for a parent or guardian to complete an online numbered form developed by the Department of Education to confidentially report an incident of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
Both school security drills and HIB incidents have mandatory reporting and compliance requirements that will be enhanced because of these new laws. School leaders should be familiar with these enhancements to effectively prepare for emergencies, address and prevent bullying, and ensure compliance to mitigate potential risk and liability.