WESTFIELD, NJ — Less time in school buildings — the result of COVID-19 — has apparently led to fewer incidents of violence, vandalism and harassment in the local school district.

The Westfield Public School District reported seven incidents Jan. 1 to June 30 on its latest Student Safety Data System report, reflecting a 75% decrease from the same timeframe last year, during which 28 incidents took place.

The report, compiled twice a year, shows the number of incidents meeting the state’s definition of violence, vandalism, substances, weapons and/or confirmed HIB (harassment, intimidation or bullying) in each school during a specified timeframe.

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The report also includes other incidents leading to suspension but not falling under one of the state’s categories; alleged HIB incidents that did not meet the state’s criteria; and trainings and programs designed to help reduce HIB incidents.

Three incidents took place at both Westfield High School and Roosevelt Intermediate School, while one incident took place at Edison Intermediate School, the report shows. The report also lists six other incidents leading to removal across the district.

Superintendent Margaret Dolan said that the decrease in incidents was caused in part by the district’s switch to fully remote instruction in mid-March.

“Our students had been in school for January, February and the first two weeks of March, basically, and then we went remote,” Dolan said during Tuesday night’s school board meeting. “The numbers are really quite low, because the students were home, and we were all in lockdown. We still had incidents, no doubt, but not as many as normally.”

Schools Self-Assessment for Determining HIB Grade

Each year, the district must self-assess how they handle and address HIB incidents based on eight criteria set forth by the state. A team at each school assigns the school a score out of a maximum score of 78.

Scores for the 2019-20 school year, compared with the 2018-2019 school year, are as follows:

  • Westfield High School – 63 (vs. 73 in 2018-19)
  • Edison Intermediate School – 69 (vs. 72 in 2018-19)
  • Roosevelt Intermediate School – 72 (vs. 72 in 2018-19)
  • Franklin Elementary School – 72 (vs. 76 in 2018-19)
  • Jefferson Elementary School – 70 (vs. 73 in 2018-19)
  • McKinley Elementary School – 69 (vs. 76 in 2018-19)
  • Tamaques Elementary School – 69 (vs. 72 in 2018-19)
  • Washington Elementary School – 72 (vs. 75 in 2018-19)
  • Lincoln Early Childhood Center – 75 (vs. 75 in 2018-19)
  • Wilson Elementary School – 70 (vs. 73 in 2018-19)

The scores at eight schools decreased year-to-year, the report shows. Dolan said this is because the pandemic impacted the district’s ability to facilitate HIB trainings and programs.

“There definitely were challenges last year,” Dolan said. “There were some either training programs or assemblies that we had planned that we then couldn’t do because we went remote.”

Despite these challenges, Dolan said, the district works hard to foster a safe school community.

“We do want our students growing up know that the way we treat each other does matter,” Dolan said. “The work we do is very important for our students’ sake.”

Cyberbullying

Despite the increased uses of technology brought on by remote and hybrid learning, Dolan said incidents of cyberbullying have not remarkably increased in the district.

“We certainly are seeing examples of it, there’s no doubt,” Dolan said. “As of yet, I’ve not seen an increase in it, but we definitely are seeing it.”

“It is difficult. Our students are online a lot these days, and there is so much that they can do online, a lot of it probably a little bit beyond their years,” Dolan said, adding that anyone concerned about cyberbullying should reach out to their school’s counseling staff. “We do have resources out there to try to support parents, and our counselors also provide information to our students to try to make them a bit more informed.”

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