bullying
Schools are bully-free zones. COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS 

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair saw 16 confirmed cases of bullying, and 49 alleged cases, during the first half of the 2018-2019 school year, up nine from the previous and more than tripling from 2016-2017.

The numbers were released during the May 1 board of education meeting as part of the district’s annual report on violence, vandalism and bullying.

Felice Harrison-Crawford, the district’s director of operations and school support services, presented the numbers.

In the past, she said, the reports only included confirmed cases. Now, the state requires all districts to report alleged cases as well.

Vice President Joe Kavesh said he was troubled by the increase in the number of bullying reports.

TWO RECENT CASES

Natalie Hackett said her daughter, who attends Buzz Aldrin Middle School, has been bullied for the past seven months, with much of it racially motivated.

The bullying involved a chat room, with at least 15 students as members. In the chat room, students called her daughter by derogatory names and spread false rumors that she wore wigs or hair extensions, Hackett said.

Hackett has repeatedly reached out to the administration to have the matter addressed, but was ignored, while staff tried to blame her daughter for some of the bullying, she said.

At the BOE meeting, Hackett held up a thick sheaf of paper held together by binder clips, which she said was printouts of the chat room content. “This is a snippet of what has transpired over seven months,” she said.

Kellia Sweatt, who was among the parents who attended the meeting in support of Hackett and her family, said the school community has become too complacent with children being bullied and parents being ignored.

“Clearly, there is a problem at Buzz Aldrin,” said Sweatt.

Sweatt also noted that of the 15 children who were allegedly involved in the bullying, only three were actually investigated by the school, and all three were minority students.

Audrey Hawley said that the allegations were not an isolated condition. “So you really need to look at your entire district.”

In another recent case, Police Lt. David O’Dowd said police responded to a report of two female MHS students fighting in the rear courtyard at Ruthie’s, a Chestnut Street eatery near the high school, on May 1.

The parent of one of the girls told Montclair Local that his daughter had been a target of bullying for some time.

Both students sustained bruising to their faces but did not require transportation to the hospital, according to police. Superintendent Kendra Johnson said the matter is being addressed in accordance with “school policy and the code of conduct, and that restorative justice practices were being used.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Bullying incidents are broken down into the categories of reason of race, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, disability, “other” and, for unconfirmed cases, “no identified nature.”

A look at numbers from 2013-2014 to the current school year shows that the number of reports have increased over the past five years.

Montclair schools reported 40 cases of harassment, intimidation and bullying in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the district’s annual school performance report from the Department of Education. By comparison, there were 18 reported cases, district-wide, during the 2016-2017 school year.

District-wide, harassment over sexual orientation had the largest number of incidents, with 10 involving sexual orientation, nine confirmed cases and one alleged.

Glenfield Middle School had the largest number of reported harassment cases for 2017-2018 with 17 reported incidents, followed by Montclair High School with nine reported incidents, and Renaissance with seven reported incidents.

Buzz Aldrin had three incidents, Hillside had two, Bradford and Northeast had one, and Charles H. Bullock, Edgemont, Nishuane and Watchung had no reports of bullying incidents.

None of Glenfield’s incidents resulted in any calls to the Montclair Police Department. At Glenfield, nine of the confirmed incidents fell into the category of “other,” followed by three incidents involving sexual orientation.

Of Montclair High School’s nine bullying incidents, three were reported to police. At Renaissance, only one incident was reported to police.

For the 2017-2018 school year, of the confirmed cases district-wide, three involved race, one involved religion, three involved ancestry, three involved gender, nine involved sexual orientation, five involved disability, and 21 involved “other.”

The report cautions that a single incident may be included in several categories, which means the total number of incidents in each category may add up to a number exceeding the total number of overall incidents.

Sara Goldstein, an associate professor of family science and human development at Montclair State University, said the definition of bullying itself hasn’t changed, in the academic sense, over the last several years. But there is a growing awareness among parents, educators and behavioral experts on what bullying can do to a child.

“These include the well-known physical aggression and also cyberbullying, relational aggression (e.g., spreading rumors, ostracism), and sexual harassment. The research on bullying has also helped to highlight the devastating academic, social and psychological impacts of bullying. For example, there is now awareness that victims of bullying are at an increased risk for challenges such as depression, anxiety, school avoidance, and suicidal ideation and behavior,” she said.

Montclair began releasing HIB numbers as part of its violence and vandalism reports starting with the 2013-2014 school year. There were two incidents reported for the 2014-2015 school year, district-wide, and 11 for the 2015-2016 school year. The 2016-2017 report for the district did not break down the bullying investigations by category, nor did it specify how many cases were reported to the Police Department.

In 2010, in the wake of the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, New Jersey introduced the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. “Parents and educators should be careful not to dismiss any form of bullying as ‘kids being kids.’ This is a common problem from years past that academics and mental health professionals are trying to address,” Goldstein said.