LAWRENCE: Bullying reports drop in schools

Bullying is on the decline in the Lawrence Township public schools, based on the school district’s state-mandated violence and vandalism report.

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
   Bullying is on the decline in the Lawrence Township public schools, based on the school district’s state-mandated violence and vandalism report.
   Superintendent of Schools Crystal Edwards reviewed the report, which covered the first four months of the 2012-13 school year, at the Lawrence Township Board of Education’s June 12 meeting.
   The school district is required by law to report the number of incidents of violence — which includes a separate category for bullying, intimidation and harassment — to the state Department of Education. The report also includes incidents of vandalism, weapons violations and substance abuse. The state released an annual report of those incidents, but now the reports are issued twice a year.
   During the first reporting period that covers September to December 2012, there were nine instances of harassment, intimidation or bullying. Of those nine incidents, one occurred at Lawrence High School, two took place at Lawrence Intermediate School and six occurred at Lawrence Middle School.
   By comparison, there were 37 reports of harassment, intimidation or bullying from September to December 2011. Overall, there were 56 instances during the 2011-12 school year — from September 2011 to June 2012.
   Harassment, intimidation or bullying is defined as “any gesture, written, verbal or physical act or electronic communication that takes place on or off school property, at a school-sponsored function or school bus,” according to a state-mandated policy that took effect in September 2011. Electronic communication includes cell phones, telephones, computers or pagers.
   Incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying may be motivated by an actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or mental, physical or sensory disability or any other distinguishing characteristic.
   Ms. Edwards attributed the decline in harassment, intimidation and bullying to the school district’s ongoing character education programs. The programs, which have received state and national recognition, teach students about the importance of toleration and the acceptance of everyone.
   ”The focus on character education is hitting home with the children. There is peer to peer support, where children work with other children (to encourage them to find other ways to settle their disagreements),” she said.
   ”They talk about fairness and caring, and that counteracts bullying,” Ms. Edwards said.
   The violence and vandalism report also listed 16 reports of violence — which the state policy defines as assaults, fights, threats, extortion, robbery or kidnapping — between September and December 2012. Of those 16 incidents, half occurred at Lawrence High School and four apiece occurred at Lawrence Middle School and Lawrence Intermediate School.
   There were also seven incidents involving substance abuse and one instance of vandalism. None of the incidents occurred at the four elementary schools. The lone incident of vandalism and the seven substance abuse incidents occurred at Lawrence High School.