BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With a high score regarding combating harassment and bullying in the district, the schools are still working on methods and education to curb a small increase in reports of incidents each year.
“We’re trying to take a more proactive role,” said Superintendent Russell Lazovick.
A presentation was given by Alan Iachini, supervisor of counseling, about how the district conducts an assessment every year regarding incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying in its 11 schools. The observation for the most recent HIB period followed a fiscal year model, extending from July 1, 2018 to July 30, 2019.
“Public school districts are required to do this,” said Iachini.
Each school is also required to have a school climate team that includes guidance counselors, teaching staff, administrators and at least one parent of a student enrolled at the school. Such teams meet once or twice during the school year.
Iachini said the teams perform self-assessments of their schools, which tend to be very subjective. They also work to implement anti-bullying plans, which include training, staff instruction, curriculum, reporting and investigative procedures.
Schools were graded on scales ranging from scores of zero to 78. The district’s highest average was 76.2.
“It’s a subjective rating,” Iachini said.
He added that the school climate teams could be liberal in rating themselves, and work to maintain HIB mandates as required by law.
Iachini also pointed out that HIB allegations made in the district are different from state reporting of incidents. Once an allegation is made, a report is sent to the district superintendent, who can make changes to the allegation, based upon HIB circumstances.
The superintendent then forwards the allegation to the school board, which could also effect changes based upon HIB circumstances. The confirmation of a bullying incident is considered to be different from an allegation of an incident.
During the 2017-2018 school year in Bridgewater-Raritan, there were 21 bullying allegations reported in the district, with 21 confirmations. In 2018-2019, there were 30 allegations, with 29 confirmations.
The incidents included those that occurred between students and staff, as well as between a student and another student.
Iachini added that the school climate teams usually meet in September or October, and continue to monitor HIB acts and requirements in planning for the upcoming school year and events such as Red Ribbon Week, while also addressing areas that could be improved.
Board member Jeffrey Brookner said when the HIB process was started, the self-assessment scores had been lower. He added that the trend is to see the scores getting better.
“In my opinion, it’s an accurate representation,” said Brookner.
He added that the HIB reports are more thorough at present, and are also generally better understood.
In response to a question by board vice president Jackie Barlow, Iachini reiterated that allegations are not the same thing as confirmations.