FLEMINGTON, NJ - Hunterdon Central Regional High School Principal Suzanne Cooley and vice principal Andrew Estrada presented the schools’ Student Safety Data Systems and Harassment Intimidation & Bullying (H.I.B.) self-assessment, as part of an annual update covering the last six months of the previous school year (January through June 2020.
Cooley said that, throughout each academic year, schools are required to report H.I.B. incidents to the state’s database. Last year, she said, just one H.I.B. investigation occurred at Central, in April, and that was a Zoom-session related incident and not a confirmed H.I.B., “and there was not an identifiable offender in that case,” she said.
Estrada is Hunterdon Central’s designated anti-bullying coordinator.
All school district employees and service providers are given training, including H.I.B. prevention, protective classes and distinguishing characteristics. In addition, Central’s student body is provided access to training opportunities regarding school policies and H.I.B. incident reporting protocols.
“The 2019-2020 school self-assessment report for the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights is part of New Jersey State law,” Estrada said. "All schools are required to complete the self-assessment annually and present it publicly before moving to next steps required of reporting online. Central has a School Climate Team, tasked with reviewing the school year H.I.B. data, policies and protocols, and the state provides us with a detailed rubric that guides us through the scoring. Traditionally, we have scored very well in this.”
Central staff conducted a total of 12 investigations in 2019–2020, and three were confirmed as H.I.B. violations. The school’s Student Safety Self-Assessment total is 74 of a maximum of 78.
A schoolwide “Week of Respect” for New Jersey schools, which was held from Oct. 7 through Oct. 11 this year, is part of one of the core elements for scoring, namely what is happening in classrooms. HCRHS is fully in compliance with another core element, ensuring that all required H.I.B. personnel, including anti-bullying specialists (ABS’s) and Estrada as district coordinator, are in place and that they meet regularly.
The team rotation now includes Katey Edgar and Stacey Heller, both student assistance counselors, who were already part of the Central ABS’ team, plus counselors Jacqueline Devlin and Julie Blake as new additions.
For all personnel, HCRHS has suicide prevention training with a focus on the impact of H.I.B. (required in every five-year professional development period).
“Within the five years, all school personnel are required to complete training in H.I.B. prevention,” Estrada said. “This law provides for training of the ABS and School Climate teams, and it mandates that all school leaders receive information related to H.I.B prevention.”
Student incidents required to be reported include damage to property, robbery or extortion, theft, arson, kidnapping, weapons, computer trespassing, sexual contact or sexual assault, fights, substance (drug or alcohol) offenses, causing false public alarms and threats.
For this data, Central reported three incidents of violence and three of substance offenses, with no vandalism or weapons-related incidents.
“Of the three incidents of violence, we had two that we’d considered ‘mutual fights’ in how they are categorized by the state with the other one as a ‘simple threat,’” Cooley said. “The substance offenses all involved marijuana use.”
Central’s policy for Substance Abuse regulations have been revised “to provide more support around those initial offenses, aimed at keeping students in school longer and receiving more support at Central, rather than pushing them out and suspending them,” Cooley said.
She added that seeking a solution other than having them out of school, including restorative practices and restorative justice – gives students an opportunity to be involved in the resolution, with a formal approach having students and administrators work towards resolutions of issues instead of the goal being strictly discipline.
“We use restorative practices here at Central and find this to meet with great success, so we’re looking to do it more globally across the board,” Cooley said.
School board member Jeff Charney asked Cooley about how universal restorative justice practices are for Hunterdon Central classrooms, or if there are examples from extracurricular or non-classroom activities. Not every classroom is employing this as a formal practice, though Hunterdon Central’s staff in specific programs such as ASPIRE and Project Trust are specifically trained in restorative justice educational practices.
“There are certain classrooms where restorative justice takes place very formally, set as part of the program for those particular classrooms and that type of environment,” Cooley said. “There are other classes that I believe are using it in a more informal sense, and there are teachers using restorative justice in their classrooms from more of a personal perspective, as a way of dealing with classroom management. Universally, across the school in various departments and different classrooms, I do not believe staff is trained in restorative justice areas.”
In the H.I.B. presentation, Cooley noted a few other incidents that resulted in some type of removals from school at Central. This category of student incidents ranges from chronic ‘cell-phone’ usage offenders to abusive language, insubordination or other issues that are not part of the four categories listed.
At the Nov. 16 meeting, board vice president Noelle O’Donnell, who chairs the district’s new Racism, Equity and Diversity Committee, asked if any H.I.B. incidents involved categories of bias.
Estrada said such a breakdown is something he did not have for the annual district report. He said he’s currently working on that data in relation to one of his own personal professional goals regarding H.I.B. and “looking at the proportionality of how many of our H.I.B. reports are confirmed and actually resulted in H.I.B. instead of just a mutual conflict, and proportionately speaking, how many H.I.B. incidents at Central revolved around in-person versus cyber-bullying and what types of distinguishing characteristics sparked that, gender, race, color, sexual orientation, etc,” he said.
Data presented by Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Moore in the Racism, Equity and Diversity Committee update, with a focus on diversity and new student clubs aimed at diversity initiatives, were examined as a way of breaking down data based on what students have experienced. Estrada said presenting pie charts with specific information gleaned from potential H.I.B. incidents reported could provide Central with more noteworthy linkages that board members and administration can assess.
“We need to break this H.I.B. data down and take a look at where our main focus is, from what is indicated,” he said. “That’s something I want to tackle as I take on the anti-bullying coordinator role.”