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Violent Incidents in Brick Schools Up Slightly Last Year, While Substance Abuse Drops

One high school, one middle school accounting for the highest number of incidents, data shows

Brick Township Memorial High School (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Brick Township Memorial High School (Photo: Daniel Nee)

The number of incidents of violence, vandalism and harassment, intimidation and bullying remained mainly steady – but was up slightly – in the Brick school district last year after several years of reductions.

State officials issued reports on violence, vandalism and substance abuse incidents in schools statewide last week, as well as statistics of instances that were characterized as harassment, intimidation or bullying under the state’s anti-bulling law.

In all, there were 140 incidents total in Brick schools last year, up slightly from 133 the prior year. The recent number of incidents is a significant reduction from the number just a few years ago, however. In the 2011-12 school year, there were 265 incidents. Since then, the number has dropped steadily – first to 189 in 2012-13, 133 in 2013-14, and then the slight increase during 2014-15. During the 2010-11 school year, there were 153 incidents.

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Of the incidents during 2014-15, 76 were instances of violence, up from 66 the previous year. Most of the incidents were assaults or fights, while a lesser number were threats of violence. In seven instances, students possessed a weapon on campus, though the state data does not detail what type of weapon was encountered.

Students were caught using banned substances 25 times last year and twice were caught possessing banned substances, the data showed. The substance abuse rate, like the violence and vandalism rate, has declined over the past several school years. During the 2013-14 school year, there were 28 students caught using substances and eight students caught possessing them, with one student caught distributing drugs. In 2012-13, 43 students were caught under the influence while there were two possession incidents. In 2011-12, 40 students were caught under the influence and there were two possession incidents.

By the numbers, the Brick school with the most violent incidents last year was Brick Memorial High School, where 33 violent episodes occurred. At Brick Township High School, there 24 violent incidents. The school with the third-most incidents was Veterans Memorial Middle School, with 14 incidents. Lake Riviera Middle School had just two incidents.

As for harassment, intimidation and bullying, there were 23 incidents district-wide, with Veterans Memorial Middle School accounting for the bulk of them. In all, there were 14 such incidents at VMMS.

The vast majority of the 140 incidents were acted on by school officials via out-of-school suspensions. That form of punishment was used 105 times. On 24 occasions, in-school suspensions were applied. Detention was used 15 times while suspensions of certain privileges were applied four times. In one instance, a student was unilaterally removed from the school.

Since school districts vary widely in size, it is often unfair to compare one district to another. In terms of enrollment, the Brick school district – at 9,145 students – most closely aligns with the Jackson school district, which educates 8,746 students. Jackson experienced a total of 91 reportable incidents last year, fewer than Brick’s 140. With a student population of 15,759 students, the Toms River Regional district reported the largest number of incidents in Ocean County – 262. The district with the third-highest number of incidents last year was Lakewood, a district of 5,807 students where 114 incidents were reported.

School officials did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, district leaders have credited numerous anti-bullying programs, such as the “Week of Respect” which occurred earlier this month, with helping to bring down the numbers in recent years. Statewide, schools reported a total of 18,332 incidents through the New Jersey Department of Education’s electronic reporting system, a 4 percent decrease from last year. About a third – 34 percent – of all incidents were categorized as harassment, intimidation, or bullying, down 5 percent compared to 2013-14. As in Brick, most bullying incidents occurred in middle schools across the state. The most commonly-reported violent incident statewide was fighting between students.

“It’s the goal of every educator and every school leader to improve and maintain a safe and positive school climate,” said Education Commissioner David C. Hespe, in a statement. “I’m pleased to see school districts are reporting a steady, continued decrease in harmful incidents. The efforts at the local level, coupled with initiatives at the state level, help to promote a safe and supportive learning environment in schools.”

Full, detailed data on school violence, vandalism and HIB incidents can be found online.