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In Second Year of Anti-Bullying Act, Reports Drop Sharply in NJ Schools

Latest data indicates fewer incidents of bullying and harassment, shows districts take different approaches to problems

chris cerf
State Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf

New Jersey schools seem to still be searching for their equilibrium when it comes to bullying and harassment, according to the latest data. They also show a fairly wide range of responses to these incidents.

The state Department of Education released its latest school violence and vandalism data for the 2012-2013 school year, the second full year of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.

Interactive database: 2013 Violence, Vandalism, and Bullying Report

Tellingly, after a first year in which there was a 50 percent rise in the number of bullying cases reported and investigated by schools, the latest data shows nearly as much of a drop, with a 40 percent decrease in the number of investigations.

Overall, districts conducted 21,934 investigations this past year -- on average, close to 40 for every district. There were more than 35,500 investigations reported in 2011-2012, the law’s first year, almost double the number.

The Christie administration said the drop reflected the schools’ growing awareness of the issue and the introduction of programs to address bullying.

“We are pleased to see positive trends this year,” said state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf in releasing the data.

“Safe and secure learning environments are a crucial part of preparing kids for college and career, and we have invested significant time to provide support and coaching to districts to reduce incidents of bullying and other forms of violence,” he said. “We applaud all of our districts for working to create safer schools for our students.”

Others said the lower numbers could also be a natural swing after the big increase in the first year, with districts and maybe even families more reluctant to launch investigations into what are becoming high-profile events.

“Could there be a better understanding of the process, I think that is true,” said Joseph Ricca, a former East Hanover superintendent serving on the state’s anti-bullying advisory committee.

“But I do think there is a fair amount of under-reporting, and the drop may be not as much fewer incidents but more of them going underground,” said Ricca, now a superintendent in Elmsford, NY. “It is a very public issue now, and incidents can play out in the media. Who wants that scrutiny?”

Nonetheless, the latest report from the state provided some interesting data for the bullying picture in every district in the state, showing a range of reporting and results.

By and large, it found that the bulk of bullying cases -- roughly a third of them -- taking place in the classroom.

While online harassment may get most of the media attention nationwide, these incidents represented only about one in six cases. Instead, most were verbal insults or harassment.

Bullying also remains predominantly a middle school issue, with more than half of reported cases taking place in grades 5-8. And nearly half of the cases resulted in counseling with students, while a quarter brought in the parents for conferences, according to the state.

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