TRENTON – The Department of Education today released the Violence and Vandalism Report for the 2009-2011 school years. The report is produced each year to transparently share self-reported incidents of violence, vandalism, weapons, and substance use and possession from districts.
“Students learn best and achieve their full potential in safe and orderly classrooms. This report empowers parents with access to information in the most transparent way possible. We are committed to being as open and forthcoming as possible about circumstances that impact the health and safety of our students with the goal of ensuring that every child in New Jersey can learn in a safe and supportive learning environment,” said Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf.
A 1982 state law requires the Commissioner of Education to file with the Legislature an annual report detailing the level of violence and vandalism in the state’s public schools. Districts are required to report incidents if they occur on school grounds during school hours, on a school bus or at a school-sponsored event. The department uses data reported by the districts to produce the annual report. The department encourages districts to use the data to identify problem areas and to measure the impact of implemented policies and programs.
Summarized below are the changes in the number of reported incidents within each category over the three-year period from 2008-09 through 2010-11:
In the violence category, total incidents increased by 5.6 percent during this time period. There were 276 fewer assaults (a decline of eight percent). Incidents of harassment/intimidation/bullying/threat (HIBT) increased by 566 from 2,846 in 2008-09 to 3,412 in 2010-11 (19.9 percent)
In the vandalism category, the reported number of incidents declined by more than 30 percent over the three-year period as follows: property damage (463 or 35.2 percent), fireworks (7 or 16.3 percent), theft (473 or 35.2 percent), and trespassing (59 or 45.4 percent). In addition the number of reported incidents of burglary declined from 63 reported in 2008-09 to 44 in 2010-11, a 30.2 percent change.
In the weapons category, reported incidents of firearms remained essentially level over the three-year period. However, incidents involving a weapon other than a firearm increased by 248 or 25.1 percent. The most notable of which were incidents involving unidentified weapons (up 96 or 98 percent), knives (up 79 or 10.5 percent) and air guns (39 or 81.3 percent).
In the substance category, the number of incidents of possession of substances increased by 302, or 37 percent from 817 in 2008-09 to 1,119 in 2010-11. Marijuana accounts for 69 percent of the total number of reported substance incidents in 2010-2011. The use of unauthorized prescription drugs is trending down. Alcohol-related incidents are up over the three-year period after having decreased in 2009-10. Alcohol accounts for 14.8 percent of the total number of reported substance incidents this year, second only to marijuana.
While the Violence and Vandalism report transparently communicates the changes in reported incidents from year to year, the report does not identify the reasons for the changes. Changes from year to year may reflect an actual increase or decrease in the number of incidents, or it may reflect more accurate reporting from districts. Similarly, decreases in the number of incidents may reflect the results of policies or programs the district put in place leading to a decrease in incidents or simply changes in how they are reported.
“Though we cannot be certain whether the change in numbers reflects real increases or decreases in incidents or simply better reporting, we do know that the new statewide anti-bullying law has put a focus on violence and bullying in schools, which is leading to better identification and reporting from schools and districts. As the law emphasizes, awareness is a necessary first step to taking they type of action that will create safer learning environments for children,” said Cerf.
A copy of the report can be found on DOE’s Web site at: http://www.state.nj.us/education/schools/vandv/0911/vandv.pdf and summaries of district/school data can be found at: http://www.state.nj.us/education/schools/vandv/index.html
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