BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Violence, bullying and vandalism in the district schools are on a downward trend according to figures presented in a report that covered the period Jan 1 through June 30, 2018.

Grace Acosta, Kevin Morra, Tara Oliveria and Lawrence Seid presented the Violence/HIB & Vandalism report to school board officials and the public at the Oct. 11 meeting.

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.”

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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.”

To make the students aware of actions or words that are violations of the policy the district has monthly assembly programs which target social behaviors; class meetings; the safety bug program; programs on cyber-bullying and how to navigate the web; the reenactment of a fatal car accident; health classes and Project Pride, according to the slide presentation.

Teachers also receive a myriad of training on HIB and are given presentations by professionals in the field and made aware of current trends in drugs and alcohol as well as suicide prevention training.

Records have been kept of both investigations and confirmed cases in all the district schools since the 2015-16 school year.

In “Reporting Period 2,” of 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, there were a total of 58 HIB investigations, with 22 and 21 confirmed cases, respectively. In that same period in 2017-2018, there were 60 investigations and only 13 confirmed cases, according to the presentation.

Looking at a year-over-year comparison, since the records have been kept, Columbia Middle School (CMS) has conducted more investigations than any other schools in the district – 39 in 2015-2016, 44 in 2016-2017 and 44 in 2017-2018. The number of confirmed cases has dropped, in the same time period, from a high of 21, the first year statistics were kept, to 26 the next year, and then to 11 in 2017-2018.

In 2017-2018, only Mountain Park School showed any confirmed cases of HIB violations – 4 – in the most recent year. The other two elementary schools and Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center had no confirmed cases of Hib violations.

Governor Livingston High School (GL) had only four confirmed cases out of the 24 reported in the 2017-2018 school year.

Digging a bit deeper, there were significant increases in incidents reported in October 2017, and in April and May 2018, probably because of bad weather which required breaks to be canceled and school to be held on a Saturday.

As for consequences, after incidents have been reported and investigated, they have ranged from out-of-school suspensions, administrative detentions to student or parent conferences, classroom or lunch detention, seating changes or restrictions, restitution and restoration, individual or group counseling, referral for therapy/treatments, referral to CORE team for a risk assessment and referral to intervention and referral services team.

Among the trends and facts, there has been a drop in confirmed violations since the program was instituted; more male than female offenders; more classroom incidents at Columbia Middle School and, at GL, more incidents involve ninth and tenth grade students – 65 percent of those reported.

During 2018-2019, the district will focus on the Sandy Hook Promise program, including “Start with Hello” and “Say Something” initiatives. An anonymous reporting system “HIBster” and “Say Something,” has been started. There will be a focus on cyber-safety, an awareness of social exclusion and a distinction between bullying and conflict made.

To see the complete 30-slide presentation, visit the district website.