MILLBURN, NJ -- In his presentation at the Millburn Board of Education meeting on September 26, Millburn Schools Anti-Bullying Coordinator Dan Brundage described in detail the new State law regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB.)
Each school in the district will have a Safety Team consisting of a teacher, a parent and a School Specialist. The Specialist, an appointed staff member, will investigate complaints and report to the Safety Team, which is responsible for the educational environment of the school. Not all incidents will be deemed HIB events.
As Brundage described it, “there is a difference between conflict, which is a normal part of growing up, and HIB.” It will be up to the Specialist, working with the Principal and the Coordinator, to determine if an episode falls within the scope of the new law.
Although Millburn has had anti-bullying guidelines in place since 2002, Brundage says this new law expands and clarifies the previous policy, and gives it “teeth.”
Brundage explained that an HIB event is one that “creates a hostile educational environment,”whether there is a single incident or many. It includes anything that occurs on school property, bus, party or out of school as long as the victim is a student. Electronic communications by computer or phone are also included.
A student, parent or staff member must report an incident to the Principal or the school specialist on the same day. When asked, Brundage promised that those who give information would remain anonymous, that students will be identified by number only, and that staff members who make reports cannot be held liable.
In the law there are measures in place regarding false accusations and retaliation, both of which, according to Brundage, “are not something we can tolerate.”
There is a reporting form on the District website. The Principal is required to inform all students involved. An investigation must be completed within ten days of the written report. Then the results of the investigation are shared with the School Board at the next meeting. Parents are informed, and may request a hearing in executive session, after which the Board issues a written decision. If not satisfied, parents may appeal to the County Superintendent’s Office within ninety days.
To better assist families to understand HIB and the law, there is a link on Edline. There will also be two informational sessions for parents. On Wednesday, October 5, K-5 families can hear about the Anti-Bullying Bill Of Rights at Millburn High School, 7-8pm. Parents of students in grades 6-12 will hear a presentation 7-8pm Tuesday, October 11, also at the High School.
Board members and parents had numerous questions and comments. Member Sam Levy made it clear that parents are “not encouraged to contact the Board” since the Board can’t investigate a complaint. Member Lise Chapman asked how the schools are teaching students to respond and report.
Brundage replied that procedures will be outlined in classrooms, small group meetings, and assemblies letting students know what they should do if they see, hear or are involved in any incidents.
The School Specialist receives training as to the scale of possible punishment and remediation. When one parent voiced concern over single incidents and what that might mean for kids, Brundage assured her that though an incident must be investigated, it may not be determined to be HIB, and there would not necessarily be discipline.
The statistics of HIB incidents must be reported twice a year by Superintendent James Crisfield. He will disclose the number of reports, and any patterns and remediation programs.
It was explained that this legislation was devised “with good intention: to eradicate bullying.” The law is meant to be a deterrent, and to educate kids that this behavior will not be tolerated.
The week of October 3-7 has been designated “The Week Of Respect.” Age-appropriate activities are planned in all the schools, from reading books on the subject to hearing from guest speakers.
In Board Committee Reports, Mark Zucker spoke of the ongoing negotiations with the Millburn Education Association (MEA.) He described the mediation process with the teachers as being a “cumbersome, long process…possibly effective.” The Negotiation Committee is also in talks with MASA, the Supervisors’ Association.
In her Assistant Superintendent’s Report, Dr. Christine Burton gave a K-5 World Language update. She said that this year K-5 students will be receiving more cultural exposure than language education.
The Administration is piloting several language programs. After reaching out to other districts, reviewing response to the programs, talking with teachers and making onsite visits, one program will be chosen for next year.
Business Administrator Steve DiGeronimo spoke of the various ways the District has responded to early transportation problems. Routes have been changed, one Barker Bus route has been split so kids get home earlier. He and Transportation Supervisor Kathleen McGowan are instituting a time study of elementary school afternoon routes, with a goal of having all students dropped off by 3:40pm.
If a new run is deemed necessary, DiGeronimo promises it will be instituted.
An Enrollment Tracker Chart handed out at the meeting shows that as of September 15 there are twelve fewer students overall than last year. Board member Jeff Waters warned that although many people will look at the chart and say “Enrollment is shrinking,” there is really no way of knowing future numbers. Waters reminded the public that last year enrollment was up 2% and if that trend continued, it would put pressure on the budget, since staff health care costs continue to rise. Zucker agreed, saying “Enrollment is unpredictable.”
The chart confirms that Hartshorn and Deerfield School third grade classes remain higher than District guidelines recommend. Board member Regina Truitt asked whether this is being addressed. Dr. Crisfield responded that if a Principal feels he needs more assistance, he knows he can always be in touch.
Parent Charlotte Kobberger asked if the Administration had contingency plans should there be further enrollment in Hartshorn 3rd grade, pushing class sizes even higher. Board President Michael Birnberg replied that there were plans in place.
Parent Jeff Decidue suggested the District require that families of students prove residency every year, and that the Board institute “an aggressive method of vetting people.” Birnberg responded that this is an issue that’s come up in the past, and that the Board is “looking at it.”
Ellen Lang spoke of the inconsistency in her daughter’s 10th grade English Lit class, where 50% of the class, and not just special needs children, are using laptops for exams, while the remainder are writing longhand. As she described it, the aggressive students asked for the laptops and got them, while the quieter kids were put at a disadvantage. She asked, “How can you grade kids trying to get into college when some have laptops, some not?” Lang reprimanded the Board for putting technology in the classroom with no guidelines. “This really, really needs immediate attention,” she insisted.
Member Jean Pasternak questioned the policy that a child be six years old by October 15 in order to enter 1st grade. She mentioned a recent New York Times article that showed studies proving that students do well entering school at a younger age. The Board then discussed the possibility of changing the date to November 15, or even December 15, but came to no resolution.