Did you know reports of bias-based incidents in N.J. schools have increased by 400% since 2018?

Posted on April 29, 2024


By Olivia Carrara Leontine Young Fellow

For more information on this topic, contact ACNJ's staff attorney, Nina Peckman, Esq., at npeckman@acnj.org.

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Since 2013, the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force has been collecting and reporting data on the prevalence of harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) in N.J. schools. The newest report, released at the end of 2023, has revealed that N.J. HIB levels are higher than they have ever been since N.J. started collecting data. The data showed that during the 2021-2022 school year, 7,672 HIB incidents were confirmed while a total of 19,138 investigations were reported. 

The rates of bullying in N.J. schools are trending upward, with most rapid increases in bias-based incidents. Since 2018, reports of such incidents have quadrupled in N.J. schools, according to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General (N.J. OAG). These reports include incidents of hate speech, harmful rhetoric, and other bias-related forms of HIB. The N.J. OAG also found that reports of bias-based incidents in elementary and secondary schools increased by 116% between 2020 and 2021. This drastic increase is likely attributed to the return to school following remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, but still reveals alarming rates of bias-related incidents. Over the last few years, the US Departments of Education and Justice have had to issue reminders to schools on their obligation to address incidents targeting Muslim, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), Jewish, LGBTQ+, and immigrant students. This confirms an increased risk for these populations–a risk which is often exacerbated by national and global events. According to ADL, anti-semitic incidents in non-Jewish K-12 schools have increased by 49% between 2021 and 2022 in the U.S. The Covid-19 pandemic, another global event, led to an increase in hate crimes targeted towards the AAPI community, with STOP AAPI HATE reporting that over 8 out of 10 Asian American youth experienced bullying or verbal harassment in 2020. As per the Trevor Project, in 2020, 52% of LGBTQ+ youth enrolled in US middle and high schools reported being bullied–something that likely stems from an increase in anti-transgender rhetoric and legislation.

Per the 2023 State Report, the drastic increase in HIB cases may be the result of a number of factors, one of them being unhealthy school cultures. Children thrive more and HIB decreases when school cultures are welcoming and safe for students of all races, ethnicities, sexual and gender identities, and disabilities. The lack of a welcoming presence is therefore thought to contribute to increased bullying and unsafe environments for students. The Covid-19 pandemic may have also played a role in increased HIB reports, as reports have shown the pandemic had numerous negative effects on the mental health and wellness of many children. Another potential contributor to this drastic rise in HIB incidents is the increase in hate crimes and speech throughout the country. Transphobia, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other discriminatory mindsets have increased nationally within the last few years, likely contributing to hateful and harmful rhetoric within schools. 

The 2023 State Report concludes with a series of recommendations spanning from broadening the language surrounding bullying to mandating training for all coaches and extra-curricular school-based staff/volunteers. To prevent bullying, student suicide, and unsafe school environments, the recommendations presented by the Task Force should be evaluated and implemented as needed. 

ACNJ is proud to have a KidLaw Resource Center focused on providing free legal support to kids who experience bullying or face other educational issues. To learn more, please view this presentation on HIB by ACNJ’s staff attorney, Nina Peckman, Esq.