Report Shows Continued Decline in Harassment, Bullying in NJ Schools

Three years into tough new law, educators seem to have gotten a handle on how to deal with aggressors while helping and protecting victims

school violence
Three years after the state’s anti-bullying law was enacted, the number of incidents reported by schools continues to trend downward — and the statistics also reveal some interesting patterns in how those incidents are being dealt with.

The Christie administration yesterday released the annual Violence and Vandalism and Substance Abuse Report for 2013-14, including data for every school and district in the state.

All told, the report said, there was a 9 percent drop in overall incidents of student misbehavior, to a total of 19,167 incidents, and a 16 percent decline in harassment and bullying incidents.

The 6,515 cases of bullying reported made up almost one-third of the total incidents.

“Our goal is to ensure that our children have a safe and supportive learning environment, and I’m pleased to see a decline in the number of incidents reported by school districts,” said acting Education Commissioner David Hespe in releasing the data late yesterday.

Other incidents of violence, as well as case of substance abuse, stayed relatively steady. Fights and assaults account for the majority of the remaining cases, with about 7,500 reported incidents in all. There were 1,000 incidents of weapons possession, a vast majority of them involving knives. Substance- abuse — 3,138 cases last year – mostly involved marijuana.

The information contained in the report is hardly full-proof, since the numbers are reported by the schools and districts themselves. That means they are subject to errors and omissions on the one hand, while they are also shaped by ongoing improvements in how schools monitor and report such cases.

After a big spike in the number of bullying cases reported in the first year under the new anti-bullying law, the 2013-14 data is relatively consistent with 2012-13.

For instance, most bullying cases reported last year were again in the middle schools, while more than half of elementary schools reporting no cases at all.

And, once again, the incidents were mostly cases of verbal harassment and insults, typically targeting students’ physical characteristics such as weight.

As in the prior year, about half of all the cases reported and investigated were subsequently confirmed and acted upon by the district, the report said.

The most common response by districts was to hold conferences with the students and their families, following by more formal counseling. But just as many cases also saw disciplinary actions, most commonly out-of-school suspensions and detentions. One in 10 HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) cases were serious enough to see the police informed, the report said.

The report also tracked actions taken on behalf of victims. A vast majority of cases saw the child being offered counseling and other support services. Although far fewer in number, in close to 1,000 cases, schools made changes in victims’ schedules or seating.