With a total of 27 confirmed causes of harassment and bullying in the district in the second reporting period of the year, the district has determined that there are no real concerns about the behaviors of the students.
“We do not see any alarming trends in the numbers,” said Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder in his report Tuesday.
As per new state requirements, the violence and vandalism report is required to given twice a year, with two reporting periods. The first is given in January and reports on incidents from July through December, while the second is given in October, and concerns incidents from January through June.
In terms of the statistics statewide, Schilder said, there has been a marked increase in violence incidents, but that is directly related ot the reporting of harassment and bullying incidents.
“This is the first year we are reporting them,” he said. “Starting in the 2011-2012 school year, harassment and bullying are no longer included under violence, so that skews the results a little.”
Still, Schilder said, he does not see any alarming trends in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District.
The total number of violence incidents for the entire 2011-2012 school year in Bridgewater was 45, as opposed to 47 in the previous school year and 70 in the year before that.
“We are on the lower end of a four-year trend,” he said.
There were seven reported incidents of weapons in schools, Schilder said, mostly with student bringing folding knives or pent knives in the buildings across the grades. There was also an incident of an air gun brought in to one of the intermediate buildings.
As for substance abuse, Schilder said, there were eight reported incidents, with most having to do with marijuana and one for alcohol.
With regard to harassment and bullying, there were a total of 164 reported incidents, but only 54 were confirmed as actually being harassment by state standards for the entire 2011-2012 school year. A total of 27 were confirmed in the second reporting period, from January through June.
The incidents, which were mostly verbal, spanned across reports of bullying for race, color, sexual orientation, disability or other distinguishing characteristics.
Discipline, according to the reports, ranged from in-school suspensions to detentions, mostly, as well as individual counseling.
But Schilder said they also found it interesting that a majority of the incidents—15 in a total—occurred at the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School. He said he spoke with other local superintendents, who reported similar findings.
“There are spikes in incidents in middle school, and it dramatically drops in high school,” he said. “Whether they’re not reporting it in the high school because they are mature enough to handle it or are embarrassed, I don’t know.”
“We are taking a hard look at it to make sure we are doing everything we can to encourage students to come forward even if they are 17 years old,” he added.
Board of education president Evan Lerner said it could have to do with the definition of bullying, and the fact that kids are more likely to tease others because of certain characteristics in the younger grades.
“Younger kids are still trying to find their way, and figure out their peer group,” Schilder said. “In high school, they have figured out where they belong and most are comfortable with that. Those who haven’t could still have issues.”
And as for the issues that were reported but not classified as harassment and bullying under state law, Schilder said they were mostly dealt with as code of conduct issues.
“Once in a while, it is clear that someone made something up, but we could say that’s a code of conduct issue too,” he said.
Schilder said that in moving forward with the harassment and bullying initiatives, it is all about prevention to try to ensure they don’t happen again.
“We’re here to investigate, we must document, we must report and handle issues, but the bigger piece of the law is about prevention,” he said. “We are obligated to put programs in place to eventually eliminate harassment, intimidation and bullying.”
The biggest focus for these programs, Schilder said, is guidance counseling, and they finally have guidance counselors in place at the elementary levels, as well as the other schools in the district.
Among the programs implemented, Schilder said, is a newcomers club, which is for children who are new to the district.
“It’s for children who are feeling not as confident coming in to a new environment,” he said. “The club is welcoming, and maybe there will be less of a chance that the child is picked on.”
In addition, Schilder said, they have had assemblies about positive school environments and school spirit, as well as character education. And the student of the week program at the high school contributes to a positive environment to reduce incidents of harassment, he said.
“And we bring in therapy dogs to increase understanding of people who need them,” he said. “We had mix-up day where students ate lunch with kids they wouldn’t normally, increasing respect and appreciation no matter the age.”
Aside from programs, Schilder said, the district is continuing with training, and just finished a second round with principals and counselors.
“I think we’re in good shape with training,” he said. “These people are in charge of going back to the buildings and training the staff.”
Overall, Schilder said, even though there are a lot of parts to the new state law on harassment and bullying, he believes the district is very well-prepared.
“The anti-bullying specialists and administration are continuing to do a phenomenal job, and I am so pleased with their work and their devotion,” he said. “As difficult as the law may be to implement, everyone realizes this can have a positive effect on eliminating cases in the schools.”