Moorestown school district grapples with student safety data

As part of their required reporting, the district took a hard look at what they’re doing well and where they can improve.

With the first half of the school year wrapped up, the Moorestown Township School District has taken a hard look at student safety. The state Department of Education requires two Student Safety Data System reports a year, and at last Tuesday night’s board of education meeting, administrators discussed the incidents that took place between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31.

Under the state’s SSDS reporting, school districts are required to report incidents of violence/vandalism, substance abuse, weapons offenses, alleged and confirmed Harassment Intimidation and Bullying cases and HIB training/programs.

Michael D’Ascenzo, assistant principal at the Upper Elementary School, said this year the state has added a new component and is now requiring districts to report any incidents leading to classroom removal. He said this can include a spectrum of events, including half-day in-school suspensions to full-day, out-of-school suspensions.

Matthew Keith, principal at William Allen Middle School, discussed the results of the WAMS and Moorestown High School data. WAMS reported nine incidents and 30 incidents leading to removal were reported. Of these incidents, four were HIB alleged and four were HIB confirmed. At MHS, eight incidents and 11 leading to removal were reported. Of these, three were HIB alleged and one was HIB confirmed.

Keith said he found the data comforting and welcoming.

“My personal hope as a middle school principal is that they do show less [incidents] when they get to high school; that means we did our job in dealing with this,” Keith said.

While verbal incidents led the charge at WAMS with 30 incidents, technology came in a close second with 23 incidents. At MHS, there were two verbal incidents reported, seven physical and two technology-related incidents.

D’Ascenzo said they weren’t surprised to find that technology-related incidents are becoming more prevalent in the data. He said their students are constantly saturated with online information, and so their focus, now, is to take a look at cyberbullying and educate students on how to use technology in an appropriate way.

YouTube is playing a role in incidents at WAMS, according to Keith. He said one of the trends he’s seeing is that students will have verbal or physical altercations they claim were the result of recreating something they saw on YouTube.

For that reason, students younger than 13 are not allowed to access YouTube. If these students are caught on the site, they’re written up for misuse of technology.

“We’ve got to prepare them to have the maturity to be able to handle this technology when they get to the high school,” Keith said.

As part of their remediation steps, WAMS has progressive discipline practices; is working with guidance counselors, teachers and families; has follow-up conferences with students and peer mediation; and has interventions focused on self-awareness and responsible decision-making.

Keith said they are also considering implementing positive office referrals. He said SSDS reports put an emphasis on the negative, and they want to engage in more discussion about the positive things taking place in the district.

D’Ascenzo said every school in the district has a school climate safety team that is taking a look at this data to combat areas of concerns. He said if, for instance, they’re seeing a rise in incidents on the bus, they’ll get together and come up with strategies to address these incidents.

“We are always looking at how to get better,” D’Ascenzo said.

The next Moorestown Township Board of Education meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19 in the Media Center of William Allen Middle School.