The Westfield school district experienced 17 confirmed incidents of student harassment, intimidation and bullying as well as 14 incidents of student violence, vandalism and substance abuse during the final six months of 2011, according to data presented by Superintendent Margaret Dolan at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The presentation, titled “Violence, Vandalism, HIB and Substance Abuse,” was given as a result of new state legislation that requires administrators to give two annual reports on the subject (previously, only one presentation was required each year). Dolan said the presentation was also given as a means of furthering one of the district’s primary goals of establishing better communication and modeling responsibility.
Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB), has received special focus in light of recent state legislation that has required districts to refocus their policies regulating student bullying. During the period of July 1 through Dec. 31, 2011, the district investigated 53 incidents of HIB, resulting in 17 confirmed cases.
In order to be considered an HIB incident, the victim must be targeted as a result of being a member of some protected category, such as race or gender (with victims being able to be a member of more than one category.)
In the district, four HIB incidents targeted victims because of their gender, two because of sexual orientation, one because of religion and one because of mental, physical or sensory disability.
According to the report, most of the HIB incidents resulted from some “Other Distinguishing Characteristic” of a student. Dolan listed student weight and the way a student speaks as examples of such characteristics that may have caused such incidents.
The HIB incidents occurred at all school levels and among a wide range of ages. Seven of the incidents occurred in the intermediate schools, six at the high school and four at the elementary school level, Dolan said.
District responses to the incidents varied to correspond to the age of students as well as the gravity of each situation. The 17 incidents resulted in 12 student conferences, 12 assignments of student counseling, nine parent conferences, five detentions, three suspensions and three group counseling sessions, according to the report.
“There are differences, and as a result, you will see differences in district responses,” Dolan said. “In each situation, we want to make the response of the district appropriate with the goal of improving behavior.”
In addition to HIB, Dolan also presented data pertaining to incidents of student violence, vandalism and substance abuse. Fourteen of such incidents were documented during the second half of 2011, Dolan said.
The incidents resulted in 14 short-term suspensions as well as two police notifications that resulted in complaints being filed, according to the presentation.
Dolan said the statistics during the final six months of 2011 were in line with data compiled from previous years. During the 2010-2011 school year, 24 incidents were documented. During the 2009-2010 school year, 14 incidents were documented. In 2008-2009, the total was 18.
The district also collected information pertaining to the offenders and victims involved in each incident. According to the report, eight of the documented offenders were regular education students and six were students with a disability (one offender was also categorized as “Unknown.”) Of the nine documented victims, five were regular education students and four were students with disabilities.
BOE President Richard Mattessich asked Dolan if any of the data suggested that a pattern or trend was developing, but Dolan did not seem to think so.
“There’s no one category that’s rising up at this point,” Dolan said.
BOE Vice President David Finn asked the superintendent if the district is where it wants to be in terms of the learning curve on how to collect and handle HIB and related data.
“To some extent, but I think we have a little bit more to go,” Dolan answered.
Though the district has been effective at investigating and addressing incidents, Dolan said she would like to see the process streamlined into a smoother system where counselors can spend less time with forms and more times helping students.
Additionally, Dolan clarified – after a question from BOE member Rosanne Kurstedt – that while some incidents may be classified as HIB and some are classified as violence, vandalism or substance abuse, there are also incidents that are not categorized in either class.
Dolan affirmed that such incidents have been addressed as well and the full range of disciplinary measures – from individual counseling to suspensions – have been applied to those situations.