New Jersey HIB Investigations: What Not To Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

As parents, knowing that your child is bullied or struggling to make friends can be deeply challenging. Whether they are bullied because of their special needs, race, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics, it can be heart-wrenching to know that your child's days at school are filled with loneliness and hostility. As a parent, you may try to comfort your students and tell them to ignore their bullies. In more severe cases, you may grow tired from failed attempts to get your school to intervene, eventually telling your child to stand up for themselves and fight back. Although this route may build your child's confidence and teach them to defend themselves, it can also snowball into your student being labeled as the aggressor, shifting the narrative far from the reality of their suffering. 

Because of an Anti-Bullying Law in New Jersey known as the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Laws ("HIB"), often said to be the most rigid school bullying laws in the state, schools are required to take a series of proactive and comprehensive steps when investigating instances of HIB. If your child has been inappropriately labeled as a bully at their school, you must understand the policies and procedures involved in an HIB investigation to avoid any unforeseen educational or criminal consequences your child could face.  

For more information on protecting your student's side of the story throughout a New Jersey HIB investigation, contact the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team by calling  888-535-3686 or by filling out our brief online contact form.  

Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) Laws in New Jersey 

New Jersey's Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) laws are designed to address school bullying through a structured and uniform statewide approach. These laws mandate schools to proactively address bullying by using a required response process, commonly called the "10 steps." Under these steps, schools must report, investigate, and rectify campus bullying with a systematic approach. The caveat here is that the 10-step process only applies if the school's anti-bullying specialist (usually a school counselor or school psychologist) determines that the incident was a HIB incident compared to a less severe peer, peer conflict, or code of conduct investigation.  

If your child was bullied and stood up for themselves, they may have been flagged as the aggressor of that incident. While it may not seem fair that the school responds by initiating an investigatory process, they have no choice. Every public school in New Jersey must ensure that their anti-bullying specialist reviews every single reported instance of possible HIB and reports it to the school principal via a mandated government form.  

When Self-Defense Triggers a HIB Investigation 

However well-intentioned New Jersey's HIB laws are, they can frequently trap victims of bullying who stand up for themselves. For instance, a child who is repeatedly targeted at the school must finally retaliate and hit or direct offensive remarks toward their bully. The other student's bus driver or parent may call the school to report the altercation, triggering a HIB investigation. This scenario can leave parents feeling bewildered and frustrated as their child, who endured ongoing harassment, is now suddenly placed under scrutiny as though they were the problem.  

For many parents, this may feel shocking because they may have been entirely unaware of the fact that their child was being bullied. Because children are embarrassed about the fact that their peers target them, they may not open up to their parents about what is going on at school. Parents may also not be informed about New Jersey's HIB laws or students' potential consequences, including possible criminal prosecution. Because HIB incidents are taken very seriously by the New Jersey Department of Education and District Attorney's Office, we address things parents should avoid doing throughout a HIB investigation.  

Critical Mistakes Parents Should Avoid During HIB Investigations 

Don't Overreact or Get Angry 

If your student is facing an HIB investigation, it's crucial for you and your child to approach the situation calmly and confidently. When working with the school's anti-bullying specialist, providing clear, concise information about the incident is essential. Parents should avoid taking their frustration out on the Anti-Bullying Specialist, who may subjectively interpret the parent's anger as proof that the student is guilty.  

This does not mean that parents should not advocate for a fair consideration of their child's experience on campus. Still, they must articulate their child's experience as a victim rather than the aggressor in a composed and confident manner.  

Don't Contact the Other Student or Their Parents 

The same can be said when interacting with the other party. Parents may feel tempted to reach out to the other student or their parents. Even if parents feel like they may be able to talk about the issue calmly with the parents, feelings on both sides can quickly escalate, leading to misunderstandings or confrontations that may influence the school's decision.  

Contacting the other party, mainly the other student or students involved, can also be seen as an attempt to influence the outcome of the investigation improperly. The other party involved may be dishonest about the interaction or misinterpret your comments to intimidate them.  

It's best to allow school officials to mediate throughout the HIB process when they can be trusted to respond reasonably and efficiently. If they don't, it's best to consult the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team for strategic advice on approaching conversations with your student's school.  

Don't Simply "Ignore" the Situation or Refuse to Participate in Meetings 

Do not ignore the situation. Failing to respond to notifications or requests from the school can be detrimental. It's essential for parents to engage with the investigative process so their child's side of the story can be represented and contribute to a fair assessment of the situation. When parents are slow to respond or fail to respond altogether, they risk losing the ability to influence the outcome of the investigation. Failing to respond can also sour your relationship with your child's school moving forward, as it can strain your relationship with school staff and administrators.  

Don't Address the Issue on Social Media 

Many people today may rush to Facebook or Instagram to share the good and the bad about their lives and their children's lives. While it may not be advised to speak on behalf of your child or share their feelings on social media, to begin with, this is especially true within the context of a HIB investigation.  

Under New Jersey Law, HIB investigations must adhere to strict privacy laws. Intentional or not, posting about the incident on social media can inadvertently violate privacy laws and school confidentiality policies. Public discussions about the incident can also escalate it beyond control, complicating the resolution process and damaging your relationship with your child's school.  

Similarly, don't simply "refuse" to respond to the investigator or participate in meetings that the school requests. There is a difference between ensuring that you participate with the assistance of the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team and simply refusing to go altogether.  

Do Not Coach Your Child on What to Say 

Parents should encourage their children to speak honestly, respectfully, and clearly throughout the investigation. While there is a line parents must walk in encouraging a student to speak their truth and stand up for themselves in an articulate manner, they should be careful that their help doesn't negatively influence their child's ability to talk honestly and openly to the school's investigators. School and law enforcement investigators are trained in aspects of juvenile psychology and how to identify signs that minors are coached on what to say. If it becomes apparent that your student is coached, it may lead officials to question your credibility and your student's version of events.  

New Jersey HIB Defense Attorneys 

The Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team has many years of experience representing juveniles in a variety of peer-related conflict cases across New Jersey. We proudly represent families all across the state in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, and Salem Counties. Whether your student attends the extensive Newark Public Schools District, Elizabeth School District, Jersey City School District, or the more remote Cherry Hill and Clifton Public School Districts, we can help.  

HIB Guidance That Counts  

We are facing a HIB investigation without strategic guidance risks unjustly branding your child as the aggressor. While not every HIB investigation results in criminal charges, many do. Our Criminal Defense Team is here to ensure that you arm yourself with the knowledge of HIB laws and the investigative process. Together, we can steer through these complex situations, securing the support and justice your child rightfully deserves. Contact us today by calling  888-535-3686 or using our brief online contact form

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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