KIYC: What parents should know to navigate NJ’s bullying laws – Part 4

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Parents who understand their rights are more likely to be successful in getting school districts to investigate school bullying, experts tell Kane In Your Corner.

Shantay and Matt Phillips, of Piscataway, are still angry after they almost lost their daughter, Summer, to a horrible case of school bullying last year.

“She actually succumbed to the stress and depression that she was feeling, and she tried to take her own life at home,” Shantay Phillips says. “And we found her unconscious.”

Summer filed a cyberbullying complaint with Piscataway High School administrators last year. She said she’d been intimate with a classmate, who secretly took a video. The video spread through the school, and Summer was exposed to verbal taunts and physical assaults.

Listen to the Kane In Your Corner companion podcast on the bullying series:

The Phillips family says they asked the district to investigate but heard nothing back for over a year. Earlier this year, they began requesting all documents related to the incident. The district didn’t turn them over until Kane In Your Corner contacted them on the family’s behalf.

When the documents arrived, the Phillips family says they were shocked. They showed the bullying allegation was declared unsubstantiated 16 months earlier. The district says it mailed letters informing the family of the findings, but is not sure if they were received. The family says they never received anything.

Full Coverage: Kane In Your Corner Bullied in School series
MORE: New Jersey anti-bullying resources 

The family’s story illustrates how hard it can be for parents to navigate the school bullying process. Attorney Jeff Youngman advises parents to start by requesting a formal bullying investigation. He recommends they use the formal name “HIB,” which stands for “Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying.”

Schools are required to investigate complaints and issue a finding within 10 school days, but Kane In Your Corner found that doesn’t always happen. Dianne Grossman, whose daughter, Mallory, committed suicide after being bullied, advises parents to document everything.

“Not only put it in writing, but also make sure you always CC someone in it,” she says.

If a complaint is denied, parents can file an appeal to their school board. But Kane In Your Corner finds appeals rarely succeed. Glenn Huber, a former West Milford school board member, says board members rarely have enough information to overturn a decision.

“All information to the board funnels through one person, the superintendent,” Huber says. “Whatever he’s giving us is what we’re going to be basing our votes on.”

If an appeal fails, parents can take the case to their county superintendent of schools or the New Jersey Department of Education, or file a complaint with the Office of Administrative Law. Throughout the process, experts urge parents to take their children’s feelings seriously.

“People our age, we look at it and say there’s another day tomorrow,” Youngman says. “For children, it’s very difficult, because they don’t have these life experiences… That’s why you have so many of these suicides.”

 

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