BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The district has noticed a reduction in the number of reported harassment, intimidation and bullying incidents, according to Alan Iachini, district anti-bullying coordinator.
Iachini made a special presentation about the district’s 2016–2017 Harassment-Intimidation-Bullying (HIB) Self-Assessment at Tuesday’s board of education meeting.
“It’s a requirement each year,” Iachini said of making the presentation. “Each building in the district performs a self-assessment.”
The district’s 2016-2017 HIB self-assessment covered the period from June 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.
Iachini said that each of Bridgewater-Raritan’s 11 schools has its own School Safety Team (SST), which meets at least twice annually. Part of each team’s duties, he said, is to conduct school’s required self-assessment, and to also implement the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act in each building.
The teams give themselves ratings each year, Iachini said, and sometimes those ratings can be harsher or softer because they can change their personnel line-up from year to year.
The self-assessment for each school in the district considers eight core elements, namely anti-bullying approaches and initiatives; HIB policy training; staff HIB instruction and training; HIB-related curriculum and instruction; HIB personnel; school-level incidents and reporting procedures; HIB investigation procedure; and HIB reporting.
Among the work done through the initiatives, Iachini said, is the “Week of Respect,” which typically takes place the first full week of October in each school, in conjunction with anti-bullying initiatives, and SSTs meet with Iachini at least twice per year.
HIB incidents are encouraged to be reported, Iachini said, and schools are still required to document that they have knowledge of the reporting process if none are investigated. Once the state’s HIB grades for a district are made official, Iachini said, grades are required to be posted on the district website.
Iachini said that New Jersey school districts were graded on a scale ranging from zero to 75 in 2011–2012, the first year that HIB was implemented into law. Since then, schools have been graded on a scale from zero to 78, he said.
Bridgewater-Raritan’s average as a district from the last year, based on the self assessments, clocked in at 74.6.
The primary schools had an average rating of 74, intermediate schools had an average rating of 75.5, Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School had a rating of 75 and Bridgewater-Raritan High School had a rating of 75.
With regard to HIB summary reports, Iachini said, confirmations came from following up on incidents that were reported. HIB complaints are generally reported first to the school principal where an incident occurred, and then forwarded to the superintendent, he said.
“The majority of HIB occurs at the upper levels,” Iachini said
But, he said, some schools had had no reported HIB incidents.
Board member Jeffrey Brookner said it looks like there has been a downward trend in HIB incidents at the middle school, and an upward trend at the high school, and asked Iachini if that was indeed the case.
“We’re trying to apply the law as defined by the state,” said Iachini, confirming that that is what the data shows.
Iachini added that administrators have become more skilled in determining whether incidents constitute HIB or not, and that the middle school has been instituting a great deal of initiatives to combat bullying. Counselors, he said, are also heavily involved.
Iachini said that SSTs are expected to reconvene this fall, where they will develop the school climate; monitor the implementation of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act requirements in their respective buildings; plan for the upcoming school year; and address areas of needed improvement.
There were 6,214 HIB incidents reported in New Jersey schools in 2014-2015, according to Iachini. That number dropped below 6,000 in 2015-2016, he said.
In the Bridgewater-Raritan district this past year, there were 68 investigations conducted regarding potential HIB incidents. From there, 29 HIB incidents were confirmed, Iachini said.
Board member Barry Walker asked if there have been any changes in the law.
Iachini said a task force has conducted a study on HIB throughout the state. Recommendations have been made to the state board of education, he said, but those recommendations have not yet been made part of the law.