The Few, The Brave, The Anti-bullying Specialists

Jamie Edward Ciofalo, Editor-in-Chief

Congratulations! If you are reading this, it is highly likely that your principal has appointed you to serve as your school’s anti-bullying specialist. If not, you have been spared the daunting responsibility, as mandated by the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011), to serve as your school’s “primary official responsible for preventing, identifying, and addressing incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the school.”

On January 5, 2011, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act was signed into law in Trenton.  On that day in Trenton, it was a typical January Jersey day. The sun hung low in the sky and the air bit bare skin at 26° F while dark storm clouds gathered ominously in the west.

The law signed on that bitter cold day caused NJ educators to shudder, but no more than school guidance counselors, school psychologists, or similarly trained school employees who would be charged to serve as their school’s anti-bullying specialist.

Why?

Because they knew that if appointed to serve as their school’s anti-bullying specialist by their principal that the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011) required them to:

  1. Act as the primary school official responsible for preventing, identifying, and addressing incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the school;
  2. Chair the school safety/climate team;
  3. Meet at least twice a school year with the district anti-bullying coordinator to discuss and strengthen procedures and  policies to prevent, identify, and address harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the district; and
  4. Lead the investigation of incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the school.

To John Q. Public, the addition of four duties to the job descriptions of school guidance counselors, school psychologists, or similarly trained school employees is not unreasonable. Especially when compared to the foundational purpose of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011) which is to “help to reduce the risk of suicide among students and avert not only the needless loss of a young life, but also the tragedy that such loss represents to the student’s family and the community at large.” (C.18A:37-13.1 et seq.)

This makes sense. According to conventional wisdom and leading experts in the field of school counseling and psychology such as Gostlow (1990), “School psychologists and counselors are key personnel for dealing with adolescent depression and suicide. Authors like Andreozzi (1988), Clarizio (1985), Fujimura et al. (1985), Greuling & De Blassie (1980), Johnson & Maile (1987), Ray & Johnson (1983) and Reynolds (1986) detail how their role can include the following:

  • consulting to and advising schools on suicide prevention, intervention or postvention in general;
  • establishing, maintaining and monitoring the effectiveness of a system-wide program;
  • working as a part of a response group or team of professionals in the school with the administration and other specialist staff;
  • staff training and development;
  • identifying of high risk students;
  • intervening with and managing of high risk students;
  • providing treatment for individual or small groups of students; and
  • liaising with and referring students on to community resources.”

We all agree that not only is it the primary role of school counselors, school psychologists, or similarly trained school employees to help prevent the risk of suicide among students. We all agree that it is also the primary responsibility of all school staff and all adult members of the school community to ensure the safety and well-being of all students. No credible school counselor, school psychologist or similarly trained school employee would neglect this responsibility.

However, under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011), the anti-bullying specialist is required to perform quasi-administrative duties and atypical functions that directly contradict the core duties and functions of school counselors, school psychologists or similarly trained school employees.

First, as per the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011), the school’s anti-bullying specialist is required to “Act as the primary school official  responsible for preventing, identifying, and addressing incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the school.” This is a responsibility that most people assume would be assigned to the school principal. But it is not. The reasons for this will be reviewed in detail in a future post. For now, it is necessary to accept the fact that the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act requires the school’s anti-bullying specialist to “act as the primary school official responsible for…” This is a heavy load for school counselors, school psychologists or similarly trained school employees to shoulder. Especially when viewed in light of all of their typical day-to-day responsibilities which involve the school’s most fragile and at-risk student populations.  The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act did not come equipped with a ready-to-use tool chest to reach into to assist them with this added responsibility or comprehensive professional development series to teach them.

Second, the school’s anti-bullying specialist is required to “Chair the school safety/climate team.” All agree that to chair is to lead. And once again, this is a responsibility that most people assume would be assigned to the school principal. When one unpacks the responsibilities of the School Safety/Climate Team as mandated by the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011), it becomes glaringly obvious that the role of the School Safety/Climate Team Chair is not light in any way.

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011) reads as follows:

C.18A:37-21 School safety teams

The school safety team shall:

(1)  receive any complaints of harassment, intimidation, or bullying of students that have been reported to the principal;

(2)  receive copies of any report prepared after an investigation of an incident of harassment, intimidation, or bullying;

(3)  identify and address patterns of harassment, intimidation, or bullying of students in  the school;

(4)  review and strengthen school climate and the policies of the school in order to prevent and address harassment, intimidation, or bullying of students;

(5)  educate the community, including students, teachers, administrative staff, and parents, to prevent and address harassment, intimidation, or bullying of students;

(6)  participate in the training required pursuant to the provisions of P.L.2002, c.83 (C.18A:37-13 et seq.) and other training which the principal or the district anti-bullying coordinator may request;

(7)  collaborate with the district anti-bullying coordinator in the collection of district-wide data and in the development of district policies to prevent and address harassment, intimidation, or bullying of students; and

(8) execute such other duties related to harassment, intimidation, and bullying as  requested by the principal or district anti-bullying coordinator.

Once again, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act did not come equipped with a ready-to-use tool chest for school anti-bullying specialists to reach into to assist them with this added responsibility. Nor did it come with a comprehensive professional development series.

Third, as mandated by the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011), the school’s anti-bullying specialist must “meet at least twice a school year with the district anti-bullying coordinator to discuss and strengthen procedures and  policies to prevent, identify, and address harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the district.” Policy and procedure development, review and revision is commonly performed by those in supervisory or administrative roles. This is another example of a quasi-administrative responsibility and one that did not come with a ready-to-use tool chest or comprehensive professional development series.

The fourth and final responsibility is the most problematic for school counselors, school psychologists, or similarly trained school employees. It is the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (2011) mandated responsibility of the school anti-bullying specialist to “Lead the investigation of incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the school.”

Why?

Because the role of investigator forces school counselors, school psychologists, or similarly trained school employees to step out from the bright, warm and secure glow of their role as a “helping professional.” The role of investigator has the potential to be a cold, dark, stormy, impersonal and intimidating experience. Very much like a thick, dark and ominous bank of approaching storm clouds. It is to be expected that students will run and hide their heads from the dreaded “investigator” in the same manner in which the average person would seek shelter from an approaching storm. The role of investigator blurs the line between school counselors, school psychologists, or similarly trained school employees and disciplinarians. And all who serve as a student advocate know that it is detrimental to the student-counselor/psychologist dynamic be perceived as a disciplinarian. It is School Counseling/Psychology 101 to never assume the role of disciplinarian. The American School Counselors Association (2013) position on the matter of School Counselor and Disciplinarian is simple and direct, “The school counselor is not a disciplinarian.” Once again, this is another example of a quasi-administrative responsibility and one that did not come with a ready-to-use tool chest or comprehensive professional development series. Moreover, it directly contradicts school counseling/psychology best practices for student rapport, trust and engagement.

These four mandated responsibilities have driven anti-bullying specialist out into the deep, dark cold world of HIB despair. For the typical anti-bullying specialist, every day feels like January 5, 2011 in Trenton, NJ. The 26° F air stings his/her skin while dark storm clouds gather ominously in the west. The day starts with a stack of investigation folders dropped onto his/her desk by the principal, a school safety/climate team meeting is added to his/her busy schedule, a staff training on HIB policy is rescheduled and a phone message from the superintendent’s office is stuck to his/her phone that reads “Please call re: HIB parent hearing before the board next Wednesday.”  For the typical anti-bullying specialist every day is January 5, 2011. That bitter cold January Jersey day never ends for them. Spring never arrives.

But there is hope for them. Because high above the thick, dark clouds of HIB despair is a source of warmth and light for school anti-bullying specialists. It is not the sun. It is HIBster. HIBster is an inextinguishable source of light and warmth for anti-bullying specialists. It is an indomitable force for good. The engine that drives culture change. The collective power of its human and technological energy is unmatched. HIBster is reliable. HIBster is secure. HIBster is trustworthy. HIBster has the power to chase the storm clouds of HIB despair away and to empower anti-bullying specialists be happy and successful school counselors and psychologists again.

Click the logo below to learn more about HIBster and how it can transform your school district.

HIBster is the Solution!

Leave a Reply