Having a child who has been the victim or school bullying can be scary and stressful. It can also be scary and stressful to have a child be accused of HIB (harassment, intimidation, and bullying). An incident of alleged HIB always involves certain administrative procedures, principally, an investigation. HIB investigations can include intense investigatory interviews, demands to point out witnesses or other wrongdoers, and possible punishment. How can parents of a student involved in a HIB investigation make sure their child is protected and treated fairly during a HIB investigation?
The first place to start is with understanding the HIB investigation procedure required in the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (the “HIB Statute”) and the parental rights reserved during that procedure. The HIB Statute creates certain administrative obligations for the district to follow whenever anyone reports a possible incident of HIB. At certain points in the procedure, parental rights are clearly spelled out.
One of the first obligations of the district under the HIB statute is for the principal to contact the parents of “all students involved in the alleged incident.” When the principal contacts you, he is likely to inform you that the school must undertake an investigation of the alleged incident. The principal must initiate the investigation within 2 days of the HIB incident being reported. The investigation is conducted by the district’s designated anti-bullying specialist. The name of this person must be available on your district’s webpage, and certainly, your principal can provide you with the name of the specialist when he or she contacts you.
Many parents, whether the child of a victim or alleged perpetrator, want to be part of the investigation. The HIB Statute does not specify a parent’s rights to be part of the investigation. Under the HIB Statute, the district must have its own HIB policy that must posted on the district’s website. Individual district policies may state the extent to which a parent and outside counsel can be involved in the actual investigation. If they do not, a parent’s involvement in the investigation becomes a matter of negotiation between the district and the parent, or counsel for both.
The HIB Statute does not have any specific parameters about what must, may, or may not happen during a HIB investigation, however, the district’s policy may. If you have a specific issue with what might happen during the investigation, you or hired counsel may want to contact the district to express your concerns. The investigation usually involves interviews of the victim, the alleged perpetrator, and any witnesses. These interviews can obviously be quite stressful for the students involved. There is sometimes pressure to implicate other students in wrongdoing.
The investigation must ordinarily be done within 10 days of the complaint, however, the HIB Statute permits the anti-bullying specialist to provide an interim report that extends the time needed to complete the investigation.
The anti-bullying specialist must report the “results” to the Superintendent within 2 days of its completion. If an incident of HIB has occurred, the anti-bullying specialist may recommend “consequences and appropriate remedial action.” The list of potential consequences must be outlined in the district’s HIB policy on its webpage. The Superintendent has the option of imposing certain training, discipline, or intervention, which is outlined in Department of Education regulations.
The HIB Statute entitles parents to information about the investigation within 5 days of its completion. That information includes the nature of the investigation, whether evidence of HIB was found, and any discipline to be imposed or services to be rendered.
As a parent, the HIB statute permits you to appeal the Superintendent’s decision, and the appeal must be heard by the Board of Education within 10 days. The appeal is heard in executive session, which means, privately behind closed doors, to protect the confidentiality of those involved.
Ultimately, the district’s Board of Education reviews the Superintendent’s report and recommendation regarding the HIB investigation at its nearest scheduled meeting. The Board must, in writing, either approve, reject, or modify the Superintendent’s report. Data about the incident is reported to the State, however, your child’s name is not.
If you disagree with the result of the investigation, you have 90 days to appeal it to the Commissioner of Education, which you may do free of charge, however, having an attorney represent you an appeal is a good idea as it will involve filing legal papers and making appearances before an administrative law judge. As the parent of a victim, you may also, within 180 days of the incident, file a Complaint with the State’s Division on Civil Rights if your child was the victim of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and some other protected characteristics. The Division of Civil Rights will conduct an investigation and may hold the school liable for monetary damages or impose other restorative conditions. Finally, as the parent of a victim, you may file a lawsuit, generally within 2 years of the incident. Lawsuits, however, involve significant costs, take a long time, and should generally be an option of last resort.