As of Wednesday night’s board meeting, Mahwah’s new school safety team has investigated three potential bullying incidents so far this school year, according to the district’s anti-bullying coordinator, Lisa Rizzo.
Rizzo and the team, who assumed their roles thanks to a new state law requiring schools to take a more aggressive approach toward bullying, found that none of the three were determined to be actual cases of harassment, intimidation or bullying.
“All three of these incidents were found to be either code of conduct violations or something that addressed [by the guidance department]” Rizzo said Wednesday.
These were the first cases the district has looked into since adopting its new Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying, or HIB, policy. The new policy requires school principals to report incidences of bullying to Superintendent Dr. Karen Lake within two days, send parents a written note within five, and investigate it within 10 days. According to Rizzo, no incident has been classified as a “case of HIB.”
Rizzo said the team was able to complete all the necessary steps within the timetables set up by the state.
Assistant Superintendent Janet Donohue added that prior to sending what may be seen as an alarming note to parents (something along the lines of, “your child is being investigated for a potential act of bullying”), school officials are calling parents to discuss what is happening.
“We are treating this with the same level of consideration we have always treated everything else with,” she said.
Rizzo estimated that each incident takes an average of six to seven hours total for school employees to investigate under the new guidelines.
The Board of Education finished up its two-part anti-bullying training Wednesday night, another provision of the new state policy. All district employees are undergoing bullying training.
The main message of attorney Nick Dotoli’s presentation on the new anti-bulling law is that it is meant to “work in conjunction with your code of conduct, not supplant it.” Dotoli advised the board, and all other district employees, to use rational judgment when addressing situations in schools.
He used examples of situations that should probably be investigated and those should be not. For example, a pre-teen girl who is seen getting upset after a group of boys call her a derogatory name after a weekend party should probably be looked into; a Kindergarten boy who says “you can’t sit next to me, you’re a girl,” to another Kindergartener on the bus is not likely something that should result in an investigation, Dotoli said.
He said a pattern of behavior is often much more telling than single incidents.
Dotoli also said that more often than not, as has been proven true thus far in Mahwah, investigated incidents will be code of conduct violations, and not cases of HIB.
Rizzo said the team in place is “doing a good job,” getting acclimated to and implementing the new policy, which is regarded as one of the strictest in the US.
Donohue added that Mahwah students are also being educated on respect, acceptable conduct, and other bullying and harassment topics.