- Last Updated on 02 August 2012
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BY JACK MURTHA Staff Writer
Standards set in place by New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act spurred a number of investigations into incidents of suspected harassment, bullying and intimidation in the Freehold Regional High School District, according to district administrators.
Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson presented a report on bullying, violence, vandalism and substance abuse in the district’s six high schools from September through December 2011 at the June 25 Board of Education meeting.
The state’s anti-bullying law, which was enacted last year, placed more stringent requirements on school districts in dealing with alleged cases of harassment.
Administrators conducted 186 investigations during the first half of the 2011-12 school year, Sampson said. Out of that number, officials determined that 16 cases met the state’s definition of harassment, intimidation and bullying, he noted.
The documented incidents revolved around issues like gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. The cases that did not fall within the category of bullying were usually conflicts borne of arguments, Sampson said.
When the new protocols went into effect in September 2011, FRHSD administrators anticipated they would be conducting a large number of investigations as a result of unclear guidelines from the state, Sampson said.
“These requirements were sort of slapped over the school districts without a lot of guidance initially from the [state] Department of Education,” he explained. Toward the end of 2011, state education officials issued a memo that helped FRHSD administrators judge what types of conflicts required further investigation, Sampson said.
Financial restrictions also hindered the district’s ability to adjust to the new standards. The law called for the creation of anti-bullying positions, which in turn required district funding.
After the anti-bullying law was found to be an unfunded mandate that had been levied on school districts by the state, Sampson said, the district received about $5,000 from the state to support the initiative.
When Sampson touched upon substance abuse, he noted that the district has seen a “slight increase” in the use of unauthorized prescription drugs.
During recent board meetings, residents expressed interest in several drug-related incidents that were reported to have occurred at Manalapan High School. Since most of those reported cases took place during the spring of 2012, they were not included in the presentation relating incidents from September through December 2011.
Sampson said he will report the statistics for the second half of the 2011-12 school year in the fall.
Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Nicole Hazel said the district takes a proactive approach to combating violence, bullying and substance abuse.
Peer leadership programs, zero-tolerance drug tests for students involved with certain activities, assemblies, and the health curriculum all serve to aid the district in its attempt to build a safe environment, administrators said.
District officials also work in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies.
Hazel said the FRHSD’s education initiatives are “not possible unless we have climates that are safe, organized and conducive to learning.”
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