2017-2018 School Report Cards Track Police Involvement in Incidents

Colleen O'Dea | March 21, 2019 | Education
Violence and bullying most prevalent incidents. More than 150,000 instruction days lost statewide due to student suspensions

New Jersey school officials reported more than 7,200 incidents to the police in the past school year and law enforcement officers made close to 1,400 school-related arrests, state education data show.

For the first time, the state Department of Education included information about police involvement in problems relating to student behavior at school, as well as the number of arrests made on school property or as a result of a school official’s complaint, on its annual School Performance Reports. The 2017-2018 report card for schools and districts also provides for the first time details on the types of bullying complaints investigated and found credible, along with the number of educational days lost by the student body due to out-of-school suspensions.

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That data shows more than 150,000 days of instruction were lost statewide by suspended students, which breaks down to about 833 students not in a New Jersey public school on any given day during the past school year as punishment for behavioral issues. Public schools enrolled about 1.4 million students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in 2017-2018.

Lost-day leaders

Elizabeth logged the greatest number of lost days — more than 6,900 — followed by Vineland, with close to 4,800. A large number of days lost to suspensions does not necessarily mean student behavior was worse than elsewhere; it could mean district or school leadership has set stricter rules and has a lower tolerance for misbehavior.

Statewide last year, 50,284 students — 3.6 percent of the total — received at least one suspension. Close to 26,000 students had to serve at least one in-school suspension, while more than 33,000 received an out-of-school suspension. Not surprisingly, alternative schools operated by districts or educational services had some of the highest suspension rates in the state, with a few around or exceeding half the student population. Of traditional schools, Joyce Kilmer Middle School in Trenton had the highest proportion of students receiving any kind of suspension — 38.2 percent.

Student Behavior and Discipline 2017-18
Student Behavior and Discipline 2017-18

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Schools also report the kinds of incidents that could lead to suspension: violence, vandalism, weapons possession, substance abuse, and bullying or harassment. Last year, there were nearly 25,000 incidents reported. That amounts to almost 1.8 incidents for every 100 enrolled students. The state introduced a new data-reporting system for these kinds of incidents, including updated categories for types of incidents, so last year’s data is not comparable to prior years, according to Michael Yaple, a DOE spokesman.

Violence and bullying

Violence was by far the most common type of incident reported by schools, with 10,838 occurrences or about 43 percent of all reports. Bullying, intimidation, or harassment was the second most-reported problem, with 7,522 instances or three in 10 incidents.

While special schools tended to have the highest rates of behavioral incidents compared to their enrollments two charter schools also had high rates: almost 32 per 100 at Peoples Preparatory Charter School in Newark and 27 per 100 at the International Academy of Atlantic City.

Of some 7,200 times the police were called to schools last year, more than a third — 2,433 — were to deal with violence, while more than three in 10 were for the possession or use of illegal substances. The police were most often called into the Passaic City district, 181 times, followed by Freehold Regional, which had the police in 134 times, the data shows.

A memorandum of agreement largely governs interactions between local schools and law enforcement, Yaple said. It tells school officials when they are required to report incidents to the police — those involving certain drugs or alcohol, weapons, sexual assault, planned or threatened violence and bias episodes.

“There may be other guidance available, but the MOA tends to be the first thing that school and law enforcement officials would turn to” when an incident occurs, said Yaple.

No need to report

There are offenses that districts are not required to report, so it is possible that the severity of a district’s behavioral policies and the presence of a police officer in the schools could impact the number of police calls.

While previously broken down at the state level, the report cards for the first time provide details of bullying and harassment at the district and school level. The 2011 Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act requires schools to pursue and prevent harassment, intimidation, or bullying. It sets strict procedures for investigating reported incidents and provides guidance on setting up programs to raise awareness of the problem and build a positive and supportive climate in schools.

Last year, schools investigated more than 20,300 allegations of bullying, intimidation, or harassment and found about 43 percent of those, or more than 8,600, to be valid. They do not necessarily represent separate incidents, as a student may have experienced bullying for more than one reason — both race and sexual orientation, for instance. Almost half of those allegations did not fall into a specific category. Of those that did, the most prevalent involved race — 1,191 or almost 14 percent — followed by gender, 1,106 or about 13 percent.

The districts with the largest number of bullying allegations confirmed included some of the state’s largest: Newark, with 276; Paterson, with 259; and Clifton, with 221.