State issues report on school violence

By Stephanie Prokop, Staff Writer
   Some schools in northern Burlington County have seen a slight rise in reported incidents for the 2005-2006 school year, according to a state Department of Education report on violence, vandalism, weapon and substance abuse released last week.
   Bordentown Regional School District reported a total of 32 incidents for the 2005-06 school year in its district of 2,100 students. Of those 32 incidents, 22 were classified as violent, five were vandalism-related, three were weapon-related, and two incidents were substance-related.
   This is an increase of two overall reported incidents since 2004-05, including an increase of substance-related incidents from zero to two.
   The Northern Burlington Regional School District, with an enrollment of 1,929 students, reported a total of 79 incidents. Of those, 51 were violent, 16 involved vandalism, three were weapon-related, and nine involved drugs or alcohol. Northern Burlington Regional school district is the local district that saw the most significant rise in incidents reported, with 62 total results in the 2004-05 school year and 79 total incidents in the 2005-06 school year. Most of these reports were of violent activity, with a total of 51 incidents reported, over the 44 for the previous year.
   In the Florence Township School District, where enrollment was 1,538, there were a total of 21 reported incidents. Seven of those involved violence, seven involved drugs or alcohol, six related to vandalism, and one was a weapons incident. In the previous year’s report, there were 11 total incidents, of which two were classified as violent. The report indicated, however, that Florence’s weapons incidents decreased from five the prior year to one for this past year.
   ”Anything could be perceived as weapon related, even a nail clipper,” said Florence Superintendent Dr. Louis Talarico.
   He recalled an incident, though could not recall the specific year, in which a student was facing possible expulsion for brandishing a nail file.
   He said all incidents get reported because the district is aggressive and has zero tolerance for violence, vandalism and drugs.
   ”It doesn’t matter how minor these incidents may seem to be; it is important that they are addressed,” he said.
   In the past, several school administrators and superintendents have stated that the report can be misleading because there is no explanation about the nature of each incident.
   New Hanover, with an enrollment of 151, and Chesterfield, with an enrollment of 295, each reported no incidents.
   New Hanover School District Superintendent Terri Sackett attributes the good results to a parents and students who are highly involved in the school community. She also said there is a lot of communication between the teachers and parents and students.
   ”Even though we did have four incidents reported for the 2006-07 school year for violence, we are a small school that doesn’t really have a lot of the violence,” she said. Those incidents will appear in next year’s report.
   ”We have implemented a character count program, which emphasizes values such as trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, fairness, caring, and citizenship, that the students must exhibit not only in the school but in the community as well,” she added.
   In North Hanover, there was only one incident of vandalism reported, with all of the other categories having no incidents reported, which is consistent to what for the 2004-05 report.
   Mansfield saw three violence incidents and one weapons report, while Springfield reported eight violent incidents.