BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Violence, bullying and vandalism showed a slight increase this year in the period from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2019, but the higher numbers still fall within the district’s historical numbers.

Kevin Morra, the district supervisor of special education and the district anti-bullying coordinator presented the annual Violence/HIB & Vandalism Report at the Sept. 26 meeting of the board, and while the numbers are higher than they were last year in some categories, this is the first increase in confirmed violations in Period 2 in five years, he said.

HIB is defined as “Any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or a mental, physical or sensory disability that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, on a school bus or off school grounds in cases in which a school employee is made aware of such actions.”

Sign Up for Mountainside Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

To count as a violation of the HIB policy, the effects of the action must: “Substantially disrupt or interfere with the orderly operations of the school AND a reasonable person should know will have an effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or student’s property OR insult and/or demean any student or group or create a hostile education environment for the student.”

There were two items of note in this year's report: an increase in cases involving internet and cell phone use and 47 percent of confirmed violations district wide happened in Recess/Lunch/Hall. The district has split one very large lunch into two rooms at Columbia Middle School, adding appropriate staffing for each room, and are working on having additional staff in the hall ways during class changes Morra said.

Looking at the details, between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2019, incidents of vandalism and weapons were down from 1 in 2018 in each category to 0; substance abuse was down from 6 in 2018 to 2, and violence was down from 4 to 1. HIB, however, doubled from 13 incidents to 26 in 2019. That said, in 2017, the figure was 21.

In Period 2, in 2016-2017, there were 58 investigations; 2017-2018, 60 and in 2018-2019, 63. Confirmed cases were 21 in 2016-2017; 13 in 2017-2018; and 26 in 2018-2019. These numbers reflect all the schools in the district and are broken out in the presentation slides here.

Year over year, there were 93 investigations in 20162017; 100 in 2017-2018; 100 in 2018-2019. There were 37 confirmed cases in 2016-2017; 19 in 2017-2018 and 40 in 2018-2019. The largest number of confirmed cases, 25, occurred in Columbia Middle School.

Data indicates that students reported generated more than 50 percent of the investigations and 54 percent of those investigations resulted in confirmed cases.

Parent reports accounted for 40 percent of the investigations, of which 20 percent were confirmed.

Reports of incidents in “Protected Categories” of sexual orientation and cognitive ability combined to make up 53 percent of confirmed violations.

Reports about incidents involving students in grades 6 and 7 accounted for 46 percent of all investigations.

The district will focus on suicide training and HIB training for staff, provide training opportunities at the elementary level and will evaluate the effectiveness of the more than 100 programs it offers for students.

The focus for the 2019-2020 school year will be: social and emotional learning; staff training; self-respect will be emphasized during week of respect; cyber bullying and internet use; mindfulness and finding ways to support repeat students, Morra said.