What Is an Anti-Bullying Specialist (ABS)?

Students have the right to go to school and learn without fear. The intentions behind New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act are good. As the law is currently enforced, however, rather than create safe schools, too many students risk being caught in the law's overly wide net and face being branded as bullies. 

In New Jersey, Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) is the umbrella term used to describe bullying in schools. The majority of HIB incidents occur in middle school.  

On average, of the bullying complaints that are investigated, only 40 percent find evidence of HIB violations. That means that the majority of students accused of bullying are innocent. 

In the 2021-2022 school year, New Jersey schools investigated 19,138 complaints. The investigations found HIB in less than 7,700 of those incidents. Put another way, 60 percent of investigations involved students facing false accusations that potentially hurt their reputation, interrupted their school day, and risked labeling them as a bully.  

Despite significant research on how being bullied affects a child or teenager's mental health, there's little corresponding research on how false accusations can negatively impact a student's mental and physical health. Research on adults facing false accusations paints a sobering picture, including psychological consequences that can persist long after accusations are disproven. 

No student should be bullied, but wrongly accusing a student or holding them to a different standard than their classmates can be equally damaging. It can affect their mental and physical health, their reputation among their peers, their education, and their future.  

If your child is facing an accusation of HIB, you have the right to protect your child. The Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense and Student Discipline Defense Teams can help. We work with families throughout New Jersey to protect their students' education, future, and well-being. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form

What Is HIB? 

New Jersey uses an expansive definition of HIB. It may be verbal, physical, or psychological. It can occur verbally or in writing, in person or online. HIB may be one event or a series of events.  

To meet the state's definition of HIB, the following elements must be present:  

  • Behavior, actions, or words that are motivated by a student's actual or perceived characteristics, such as:  
    • Race 
    • Color 
    • Religion 
    • Ancestry 
    • National origin 
    • Gender 
    • Sexual orientation 
    • Gender identity and expression 
    • Mental, physical, or sensory disability 
    • Any other distinguishing characteristic 


  • The incident takes place: 
    • On school property, at a school event, on a school bus 


    • Off school grounds when the incident substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or other students' rights 


  • A reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, that their actions, behavior, or words would: 
    • Harm a student or damage that student's property 


    • Make a student believe they are at risk of harm or damage to their property 


    • Insult or demean any student or group of students 


    • Create a hostile educational environment 

Incidents that don't meet all of these elements don't qualify as HIB. If a school attempts to discipline a student when an incident doesn't meet all of these elements, the school is overstepping its powers. 


New Jersey includes cyberbullying, formally known as electronic communications, under its HIB laws. Texts, phone calls, social media posts, videos: All of these may be considered bullying. In certain situations, New Jersey schools may also discipline cyberbullying that occurs off campus.  

One of the growing challenges with social media and other online communications is the risk of doctored or fake messages. In 2021, national headlines reported that a Mom had created a deepfake video of a rival cheerleader. 

What was less reported on at the time was that the video was likely real, and the deepfake angle was the result of a sloppy investigation by a police officer who resigned after facing felony charges. Tech experts at the time pointed out that the technology to create a deepfake video wasn't easily accessible to the average person. 

That was no longer the case less than two years later. High school students created a fake video that targeted a middle-school principal. The video was posted on TikTok, and while the school district did identify them as fake, the incident raises concerning questions. 

Deepfakes and other AI may not be immediately identified as fake or may circulate through a school community before being taken down and identified as fake. Recognizing AI and deepfakes may require a level of technological knowledge that school administrators don't possess.  

Even if a deepfake is eventually identified, that might not easily undo the damage to a student caught in the middle. The cheerleading story provides a good example: While it's easy to find stories about the deepfake video, it's harder to find stories that mention the investigation was dropped due to shoddy evidence.  

Technology doesn't even have to be that advanced to create false records or evidence. Students can easily create fake screenshots or text threads. A simple search for “how to make a fake text” turns up 1.8 billion results, including how-to videos. 

Interpersonal Conflict 

Part of growing up is learning interpersonal skills. Conflicts between children and teenagers are part of that learning process. A disagreement between two students isn't bullying, even when students resort to name-calling or threats. 

New Jersey highlights that conflict is mutual. Bullying is not. The goal of a conflict between students is rarely to hurt the other student, although students may hurt each other's feelings during an argument. Conflict also tends to help students develop their social skills, even if it may not seem that way at the moment. 

In comparison, the goal of bullying is often to hurt the other student. Bullying rarely builds social skills for either student. 

Conflict may sometimes escalate into bullying, or one student may try to claim bullying after a conflict. A student may claim they were being bullied in hopes of avoiding being punished for fighting in school or breaking other parts of a school's code of conduct. Or a school staff member may witness a conflict between two students and accuse one student of bullying the other.  

While a student may face disciplinary action for fighting in school, they should not face any action under HIB. Conflict isn't bullying. 

What to Do 

When your student has been wrongly accused of bullying, you should begin taking action immediately. A counselor who previously worked as a teacher in New Jersey recommends that parents and guardians take the following steps:  

  • Listen to the school You want to get as much information as you can from the school. While you should defend your child, the more information you can get in the early stages, the better. Take notes and ask the school for what notes and information they can provide to you.  
  • Learn New Jersey's laws Ask the school for any information about HIB, New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, and the school's HIB policies. Schools have some flexibility in implementing state law, including the investigation process and disciplinary action.  
  • Limit your communication to the school and your child Don't post on social media or talk about the incident with other parents. Even if you're seeking information, you may end up feeding into the school gossip mill. Don't engage with the other family, especially when a bullying complaint is based on false accusations. You already have evidence the family will stretch the truth. If nothing else, keep in mind that the more you talk, the more you risk drawing attention to your child, including harming their reputation.  

You have every right to be angry and want to defend your child. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense and Student Discipline Defense Team can help you understand the options, establish evidence, and take a logical approach to navigating the situation. 

Overly Severe Discipline 

Sometimes, you know your child did make a mistake. Their behavior did violate New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Laws, and you agree with the school that they should face discipline for their actions or words. Where you disagree with the school is in the appropriate level of discipline.  

A school, in an attempt to look tough on bullying, may overstep in disciplining your child, handing down an overzealous punishment. In these situations, you do have options to appeal. You should refer to your child's student handbook or HIB policy to learn about how to appeal. A school should also provide this information to you, including the deadline by which you need to file an appeal.  

Protect Your Student 

False accusations are a form of bullying. Overly severe discipline is an abuse of school power. No student should be bullied, but neither should a student have to be worried about being subjected to a bullying witch hunt as part of their school day. It's one thing for students to read The Scarlet Letter in English class. It's something entirely different to have to live through it. 

If your child is facing bullying accusations, the Lento Law Firm Team can help. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online 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.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.