School district cites increases in bullying cases

Growth is also seen in social and emotional learning

Haddonfield Memorial High School (EMILY LIU/The Sun)

The Haddonfield district’s anti-bullying coordinator and school safety specialist opened the July 21 board of education meeting with an update on the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) semi-annual report. 

Since Sandra Horwitz last gave an update in December – on the first period, from September 1 to Dec. 9 – cases have spiked from two reports that did not require further investigation to 20 reports. Fifteen of those were investigated, with 13 found to be confirmed instances of HIB. 

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There were four reports at the elementary level, five reports and four confirmed at the middle-school level and six reports and five confirmed at the high-school level. Broken down according to protected categories, six of the 13 incidents were based on race, five based on sexual orientation and two based on disability.

“We had several cases that never should have happened,” Horwitz said. “Just freaky things happened that you would never expect to happen, and we had to investigate them.

“ … We are strengthening our training for next year,” she added, “and also we are going to be meeting to discuss stronger consequences and then advertise those consequences a lot, so that students and staff know what is going to happen if you should engage in this kind of behavior.”

Horwitz also clarified that while the majority of the reports were made by a victim or parents, there were also instances reported by witnesses.

“We want our students to feel empowered that they know the avenue to take if they see something that is hurtful,” she noted.

Assistant Superintendent Gino Priolo noted that in the upcoming school year, the district wants to double the number of social and emotional lessons taught at all levels, something similar to what the district had already been doing with character education. 

Goals for social and emotional learning include helping people develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions according to the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning. 

“The difference is a renewed focus, a greater consistency across the district,” Priolo said.

While student surveys showed growth in eight of the 10 areas for social and emotional learning – such as self-management and social awareness – there were also increases in the district’s crisis data, meaning an increase in suicidal ideation, threats to others, substance abuse and self-harm.

“This is important work that we believe we need to continue to do across the board in helping students and working with our families to ensure we’re preparing students and giving them the tools to be successful in school, life and work,” advised Priolo, who will give another presentation in September.

During his report, Superintendent Chuck Klaus shared that he has been working to create a task force where he can meet with captains, coaches and graduates who experienced racist treatment to set goals and accountability for the athletics department in response to a racial incident in May, when a Haddonfield Memorial High School baseball player made monkey sounds at a Black West Deptford student. 

In other sports news, beginning this fall, coaches will be able to make cuts to a team based on the suggested maximum number of students per team in the handbook. The decision was made both to alleviate the high number of participants in certain sports when it becomes unmanageable and to encourage   students to join sports that can take an unlimited number of students, such as tennis, track or crew.

“This saddens me,” Klaus said. “Nobody wants to say no to a child who wants to do something and get involved, but we’re at a point (where) we have so many kids involved in certain sports,” he said. “Specifically, that 45 kids on a soccer team with one coach is not safe. Kids are not getting the practice they need … 

“It’s just not what it is supposed to be.”

Coaches with too many kids will work with an athletic director to make cuts. Klaus noted that the numbers suggested in the handbook are not hard figures, but recommendations.

In other news:

  • Klaus will begin the process of revamping the English and Language Arts program’s curriculum, instruction and assessment.
  • More news on the health and PE curriculum updates will be available on the website in the coming weeks
  • Upcoming presentations for August include the high school’s grading trends, possible grade inflation and the state of special education.

The next board of education meeting is on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m.

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