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School Board: Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse Incidents Drop

From 2009-2010 to 2010-2011, Collingswood Public School District reported a decrease in all incidents except for weapons.

Reported incidence of violence, vandalism and substance abuse in Collingswood schools fell last year compared to the previous academic year, while weapons violations ticked up. 

Superintendent Scott A. Oswald led off Monday's board of education meeting by reviewing Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse (VVSA) incidents in the district.

According to district reports—from the 2009-10 school year to last year's 2010-11 school year—violence decreased by four incidents; vandalism decreased by one incident, bringing it down to zero reports; and substance abuse by one.

The only increase came in the category of weapons, which increased from one incident in 2009-10 to four incidents in 2010-11.

"Typically, when a weapon is reported, 90 percent of a time (the student reportedly in possession) works at Acme or Super Fresh, and brings a box cutter to school," said Oswald during the meeting. "These weapons are generally located in one of two ways. Either the student is in trouble for another reason, is asked to empty their pockets, and the (weapon) is found; or the student feels the need to show (the weapon) to others during school, and is subsequently reported."

According to Oswald, the district is required to compile a VVSA report each school year, mandated by the State of New Jersey. 

"We're required to do these reports each year, and each year we recognize (VVSA) Awareness Week. But I think every week should be (VVSA) Awareness Week," he said. "These reports are a summary of district statistics from the previous school year, and a summary of school programs and preventative measures we take to raise (VVSA) awareness and promote district safety."

Included among districtwide preventative measures?

Each day, students at recite a Kindness Pledge, in an effort to decrease incidents of bullying. Character education assemblies are held, and all elementary schools implement reflection periods when an incident occurs—to help children realize more positive courses of action and reflect on damage caused by their initial reaction.

In January, both and students will partake in a program called A Portrait of Apathy.

"(A Portrait of Apathy) is an excellent program about bullying and anti-bullying, and discusses how a student who watches (a bullying incident) and does not take action by reporting it, holds as much responsibility as (the bullier)," said Oswald.

Other VVSA prevention tactics include a $2,500 grant from Rutgers University, which will be used to improve the environment at Collingswood Middle School. And ninth-graders at Collingswood High School take part in conflict-resolution scenarios by learning positive ways to resolve an issue. One counselor is also staffed at every elementary school in the district each day, to handle potential incidents.

"All doors are locked at every building in the district each day. This year, we'll be updating our (computer) chip access systems, by adding additional locations for (secure entry) to school buildings," said Oswald. "We'll be using more complex cameras, which are effective when we're doing an investigation."

According to the VVSA report, in 2010-11, the district reported seven incidents of substance abuse.

"If a student is under suspicion (for substance abuse), we are required by law to send them out for testing, and handle each situation based on test results. The seven incidents reported (in 2010-11) are either cases of suspicion, or of (confirmed substance abuse)," said Oswald, who was not permitted to specify which of the seven accounted for actual, confirmed substance abuse. "All I can say is that (in substance abuse reports), 99 percent of the time it involves marijuana."

Monday's discussion also focused on bullying. Oswald said district's Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) policy reports will now become a monthly item on the school board agenda.

"We'll be listing every suspicion of bullying within the district. Many incidents are brought to our attention. The Friday before our monthly meetings, we'll close down incident (submissions), so anything before Friday will be reviewed at our meetings," he said. "We run each incident through (state-mandated) criteria to see if it's a confirmed case of bullying. Parents have the right to appeal. The following month, the same report returns to the board, and we take action on it."

Oswald said so far, the district has handled one bullying incident report.

To view the district's full VVSA presentation, which includes statistics and figures regarding districtwide reports of VVSA, view it as a .PDF file in the photo gallery attached to this story.

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