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School Violence, Vandalism Mostly Stable or Declining, Says State Report

Middle-school bullying and fighting take slight uptick, pot continues to be drug of choice

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New Jersey’s annual report on school violence and other misbehavior was released yesterday, with some provocative results sprinkled among the not-too-surprising statistics. Among the surprises: bullying in the classroom, a bump in fighting, knives versus guns, and pot versus booze.

For instance, overall incidents in 2014-2015 were down slightly almost across the board, continuing a recent trend. That total included assaults, substance abuse, and vandalism.

Representing a third of all incidents, the biggest number continues to be bullying and harassment, thanks to a 2012 law that formalized the process for investigating this behavior in New Jersey schools.

When averaged out, the 6,214 “affirmed” cases amounted to about two or three cases per school, with about half of the schools reporting at least one. That was out of more than 17,000 accusations overall.

Still, it was a slight drop from the prior year, a sign that the problem is stabilizing somewhat in New Jersey’s schools.

But there were a few more intriguing results that will likely raise some questions. Here’s a few of them:

Bullying and middle school

The reported incidents of bullying continue to occur chiefly in middle school, not surprising given the physiological and emotional transitions that kids undergo in those early teen years.

As in past years, the incidents were predominantly verbal harassment, almost 80 percent of all cases, usually demeaning a student for their appearance or other characteristic, including race and ethnicity.

Yet, for all the attention to outside-school incidents or those on buses or other less-supervised locales, the highest number -- and a third overall -- were still within the classroom under the apparent watch of an adult. In addition, one in 10 incidents were reported to police.

Fights up

Fights were up slightly last year, with more than 3,100 cases, or a 3 percent increase. Threats (1,281) and assaults (2,639) were also in the four figures, although both dropped slightly from the year before.

Nonetheless, incidents of actual violence are still the dominant problem that schools deal with, outnumbering bullying.

Knives, not guns

For all the worry about guns these days, they are exceedingly rare in New Jersey schools. Last year, there were just six handgun incidents reported statewide, down from nine the year before. More common are air guns or imitation guns, but they still account for just 100 cases statewide.

Schools are not weapon-free, however; the most common being knives, box-cutters, and other blades. Last year, there were 1,030 reports of “other weapons,” a figure that has been relatively stable for three years.

Marijuana over alcohol

Marijuana continues to be the substance of choice for students, with the 2,292 reported cases last year more than three times that for alcohol and all other illegal substances combined.

But some of these numbers were especially suspect, including just one reported cases of steroid use, down from two the year before.

In-school vs. out-of-school suspension

When it came to discipline, sending a child home for a few days represented more than 80 percent of all suspensions.

But once there, there was little support offered, no matter the duration. In a majority of all suspensions, in or out of school, the educational program was assigning the students work. Less than a quarter of the cases saw any other support, and a fifth of all cases saw no assignments or other education offered at all.

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