By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
WEST WINDSOR — There were nearly 36 reports of suspected incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying during the 2014-15 school year, but only 21 incidents were confirmed, according to West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District officials.
Ten of the 21 confirmed incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying — HIB — occurred among students in grades 6-8, followed by eight incidents among high school students in grades 9-12. There was one incident among children in grades K-3, and four among fourth- and fifth-grade students.
School district officials statewide are required to report the number of HIB investigations and confirmed incidents to the state Department of Education, under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights that took effect in 2011.
HIB 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 on a school bus. Electronic communication includes pagers, cell phones, telephones and computers.
Incidents of HIB may be motivated by an actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic.
HIB incidents do not need to occur in a face-to-face setting. They can take place electronically, online or via a cell phone — cyberbulling. And that’s what school district officials would like to address.
If a child is given a cell phone or smartphone, the parent has to give the child some guidelines and rules by which it can be used, said Gerard Dalton, the assistant superintendent of schools for pupil services and planning.
It is not necessary to take the cell phone away from a child, but it is up to the parent to teach the child how to use it responsibly, Mr. Dalton said. Cyberbullying often occurs when a child has “unstructured time” with a cell phone — at night, on the weekend or any time a child is home alone, he said.
“We suggest that cell phones should be charged in (the parents’ bedroom), not their bedroom,” Mr. Dalton said.
School district officials also released the annual Electronic Violence and Vandalism Report. Overall, there were 67 incidents during the 2014-15 school year — and of those 67 incidents, 21 were HIB-related.
There were 11 reports of violence, 13 of vandalism, five weapons offenses and 17 cases of substance abuse during the 2014-15 school year.
At Community Middle School, there were seven incidents of violence and two of vandalism; three cases of violence and one of vandalism at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North; and eight vandalism cases at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South.
The number of weapons offenses — four — was evenly divided between the two high schools, but West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North had 11 of the 17 cases of substance abuse. The rest occurred at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South.
During the annual School Violence Awareness Week, which took place Oct. 19-23, each school held activities specific to that school. At the Wicoff and Maurice Hawk elementary schools, for example, the PTA’s sponsored anti-bullying assemblies.
Focusing on “what we like to see, not what we don’t like to see” in the students, Mr. Dalton said, is most effective. Promoting a sense of belonging does much to help limit the number of HIB cases, he added.
By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer