UNION COUNTY — The state released the annual school violence and vandalism report this month showing a downward trend of reported incidents statewide.
In fact, in some towns the number of harassment, intimidation and bullying incidents dropped significantly over previous years.
The report is produced each year by the New Jersey Department of Education based on statistics that school districts share on reported incidents of violence, vandalism, weapon offenses, substance offences, harassment, and intimidation and bullying.
With the enactment of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights passed in January 2011, the 2012-2013 school year represents the second full year districts reported several of these offenses in a separate category.
The Public School Safety Law passed in 1982 required the commissioner of education to file an annual report detailing the extent of violence and vandalism in the states public schools. Districts are required to report incidents that occur on school grounds during school hours, on a school bus or at school sponsored events.
While the violence and vandalism report communicated the changes in self-reported incidents from year to year, the report, however, does not identify the reasons for the changes.
The state stressed that these changes from year to year also could reflect the impact of local school policies and programs addressing violence, vandalism, substance abuse and bullying.
New Jersey State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said in a statement he was pleased to see positive trends this year, noting that safe and secure learning environments “are a crucial part of preparing kids for college and career.”
“We have invested significant time to providing support and coaching to districts to reduce incidents of bullying and other forms of violence,” Cerf noted.
Part of that training included providing four training sessions for anti-bullying coordinators and specialists from 300 districts and eight separate training seminars for 900 members of school districts on “Improving School Climate and the Condition for Learning: Support for the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”
There also have been seven separate training programs for over 500 school staff members on the essentials of harassment, intimidation and bullying in addition to technical assistance, visits, and webinars on this particular subject.
The violence and vandalism report for 2012-2013 summarized two- and three-year trends, which showed a definite drop for suburban towns in the county. Statewide, the total number of incidents decreased by nearly 5,000, or 19 percent, from 26,139 incidents in 2011-12 to 21,170 in 2012-13.
“We applaud all our districts for working to create safer schools for our students,” Cerf added.
This overall decline, the state said, was due principally to districts reporting fewer incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying in 2012-13 than the year before.
The report also noted that more than a third of these types of incidents occurred in the classroom.
In Union County this trend continued with Union showing the most significant drop, going from 252 incidents in the 2011-12 school year to just 99 reported for 2012-13, with 53 of those reportable incidents involving harassment, intimidation or bullying. This drop was more in line with reportable incidents in the 2009-2010 school year when the district had 100 incidents.
Also showing a decline in these incidents was Linden, going from 173 incidents for the 2011-12 school year to 117 in 2012-13, with 37 related to harassment, intimidation and bullying. This drop also was more in line for the district, in which 98 such incidents in the 2009-10 school year.
Roselle, though, saw an increase in overall incidents, going from 49 incidents in the 2011-12 school year, to 61 incidents this year, 15 of that number involving harassment, intimidation or bullying. This number was still out of line with 2009-10, when the number was as low as 9.
Incidents in Springfield dropped from 46 incidents last school year to 24 for 2012-13. However, the 24 incidents, of which 12 involved bullying, intimidation or harassment, were above the 16 incidents reported by this school district in 2009-2010.
Summit had 72 incidents of violence, vandalism, bullying, weapons, or substance abuse in the 2011-12 school year, but dropped to 60 this year, with only 14 of that number involving bullying, intimidation or harassment. This school district also is not back down to 2009-2010 levels when just 14 such incidents were reported.
Hillside’s numbers also declined, going from 79 incidents last year to 57 this school year, but only 4 involved any kind of bullying, intimidation or harassment.
Rahway also saw a slight drop, going from 64 such incidents last school year to 50 this year, with 30 of those incidents relating specifically to harassment, intimidation or bullying.
Elizabeth had 398 incidents last school year, dropping to 353 this year, with 148 of those incidents involving some type of bullying. This number, though, is still not where the school district was in the 2009-10 school year, when there were 215 such incidents overall.
Cranford, on the other hand, had 42 incidents last year, dropping to 27 this year, 23 of which involved bullying. This number did not come close to the 2009-2010 number of nine.
Clark reported 31 overall incidents for the 2011-12 school year, dropping to 17 this year, three of which involved direct bullying, intimidation or harassment. This was far below the 32 reported for the 2009-10 school year.
Berkeley Heights had 87 overall incidents in the 2011-12 school year, but dropped that number down to 48 this year, with 35 of those incidents related directly to bullying.
Kenilworth reported 36 incidents last school year, but only 28 this school year, 11 of which involved bullying.
Roselle Park reported 60 overall incidents of vandalism or violence, dropping to 41 this school year, 21 involving bullying. In 2009-10 the district reported 25 incidents.
Student offenders in grades five through eight throughout the state were found to be responsible for the majority, or 56 percent, of these types of offenses committed in 2012-13. This population accounts for only 29 percent of all students enrolled in grades K-12 statewide.
Fifteen percent of harassment, intimidation and bullying incidents targeted students because of their race or color, while three in five targeted fellow students for other distinguishing characteristics. A large majority, or 73 percent, of the offenses committed in 2012-13 had to do with insulting or demeaning a student or group of students.
In general, districts throughout the state conducted 21,934 investigations into these three categories, a decline of nearly 40 percent from the 35,552 investigations conducted in 2011-12.
While Cerf said part of the decline may be attributed to bullying prevention programs in schools, a significant part had to do with the Department of Education working with school districts the last two years to provide a clearer understanding of the criteria for reporting incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying.
The commissioner also pointed out that compared to last year other incidents were also down, including violence, down 4 percent, vandalism, down 9 percent, weapons, down 7 percent, and substance abuse, down 4 percent.
Three-year trends statewide were also positive, with violence declining between 10 and 15 percent while incidents of criminal threat, or expressing the intent to commit aggravated assault, or similarly serious violent criminal offenses, decreased by 106 incidents, or 40 percent.
Vandalism, including bomb threats, burglary, damage to property and theft offenses all showed moderate declines of 10 to 16 percent, while fire alarm offenses declined 44 percent.
The 1,048 incidents involving weapons represented 5 percent of all incidents reported, with little change in any of the types of weapons involved, except knives, which showed a decrease over the three-year period of 14 percent.
The use of substances decreased 6 percent to 2,500, possession decreased 5 percent to 1,065 and the sale and distribution of substances decreased 21 percent to 138. Marijuana continues to account for the vast majority of the total number of substance incidents reported, or 69 percent.