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First the good news…

Hopewell Regional School District (HVRSD) Anti-Bullying Coordinator, Anthony Suozzo, reported that the district met state requirements in compliance with New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act for the 2015-2016 school year.

Safety team school representatives, consisting of representatives from the school’s administration and teaching staff, a parent, and the school’s Bullying Specialist, conducted the required self-assessments per the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. At a high level, the core elements include:; 1) school safety team identification of any HIB patterns in the school culture, 2) staff training on the HIB policy, 3) staff suicide prevention training, 4) school observation of the “Week of Respect,”, 5) appointment of school anti-bullying specialists, 6) implementation of HIB reporting procedures, 7) implementation of HIB investigations, and 8) reporting of violence and vandalism incidents. To view the entire report, click here.

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Now the bad news

The “Violence and Vandalism Report,” also reported by Mr. Suozzo, details the number of incidents of violence, weapons, vandalism, substance abuse, HIB reported, and HIB confirmed on school grounds. Of the past four years, the 2015-2016 school year showed an increase in the number of substance abuse incidents, HIB reported, and HIB confirmed. It also showed an increase in the number of suspensions, proportional to the increase in substance abuse, weapons, violence, and vandalism incidents, as mandated by board policy.

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Note: Two students brought weapons to school but Mr. Suozzo clarified that these were pocket knives brought to the high school, by mistake. No threats to other individuals were made. Six incidents of substance abuse were reported in the high school and one in the middle school. Of the ten confirmed HIB incidents, seven of these started outside of the school day, continuing into the school. Mr. Suozzo discovered that five of the ten incidents involved social media. Of the 18 unconfirmed (no victim was established, but rather a mutual conflict) HIB incidents, investigations founds that many of those also concerned misuse of social media.

Putting the bad news into perspective

When Dr. Thomas Smith, Superintendent, was asked about the incident increases he said, “To put it into perspective, though we’ve seen an uptick, compared to surrounding districts, we are still in good shape. It’s provided us an opportunity to really start a lot of conversations. We’ll begin to have discussions with kids and staff to see how we can decrease negative behaviors and increase empathy in and out of school. We will be developing expectations across all grade levels of what we want our students to have when they leave us, in terms of their ability to understand, and be empathetic about the world around them. This will help us build the whole child.”

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