The West Deptford Board of Education approved a new school safety plan for the West Deptford Middle School on Monday night. This comes after the middle school was put on a warning list by the state Board of Education based on the number of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) cases during the 2011-12 school year.
“There was a spike in the middle school's incident numbers,” said Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman. “The middle school administration reached out to the county offices and the county explained that we had this many more harassment, intimidation and bullying incidents than last year."
The school safety plan, which was presented at the meeting prior to its passage, comprises new ways to better educate teachers and students on HIB incidents. A committee formed over the summer to develop the plan, which includes new programs to educate the students on avoiding bullying incidents, training for staff members on how to react and teach the children about proper behavior and programs that are designed to improve character-building between students.
Kitchenman believes that the middle school's HIB numbers were high last year because, with the new law, school administrators were very stringent with reporting cases. He stated that the school did not have a problem with major incidents, such as assaults or fights.
“Our interpretation of the new law was very literal and very by the book,” he said. “And in doing that, it caused us to categorize more situations as harassment, intimidation and bullying then we probably should have.”
Last school year was the first for enforcement of New Jersey's new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was enforced. The new law emphasizes cutting down HIB incidents in schools through strict guidelines that required staff members to report HIB incidents to the principal the day of the occurrence. From there, a written report is filed and an investigation into the incident takes place. At the end of the school year, each district must report the number of HIB incidents for each school to the state.
For West Deptford Middle School, the goal is to cut the number of HIB incidents by 37 percent. Reaching this goal will take the school off of the state's warning list. Kitchenman also sees this as an opportunity to better improve the efforts of anti-bullying programs, not just in the middle school, but districtwide.
“We're going to be getting more of a reduction in this and we'll be able to better educate our students,” he said. “That, overall, will help us be able to keep the number of incidents flat or we're even looking for a decrease.”