by Tess Lukowiak
The state of New Jersey has implemented new harassment, intimidation and bullying laws to take effect during the 2011-2012 school year. In coordination with the new laws, the Westfield School District has amended its bullying policy in attempts to create the safest and most comfortable school environment for students.
As part of the changes in the HIB legislation, school districts statewide must appoint administrators to two new positions, Anti-Bullying Coordinator and Anti-Bullying Specialist, and then form a School Safety Team.
Ms. Audrey Zavetz, Lincoln School Principal, has taken on the role of Anti-Bullying Coordinator and Guidance Counselors Ms. Maureen Mazzarese and Mr. Paul Valanzano have been appointed the anti-bullying specialists for WHS. A school safety team, which must consist of a principal or assistant principal, the ABS and a parent from the school, has yet to be completely determined.
Said Zavetz: “As the ABC, I am responsible for helping to prevent, identify and address any incidents of HIB….This will be accomplished by working with each school’s ABS, Dr. Margaret Dolan and the Westfield BOE.”
The law introduces other changes in addition to the creation of new positions. For example, The new HIB policies must address incidents of HIB that occur off school grounds if they interfere with the rights of the other students or with orderly operation of the school.
“Social media presents a whole new forum for bullying,” said Valanzano. “That must be addressed if it affects someone at school.”
Once an incident of HIB is reported to a teacher, the teacher must verbally report it to the ABS or principal that day and file a written report within two days.
The ABC, ABS, and SST must then investigate the complaint within ten days. Said Mazzarese: “The investigations will give us an idea of the type of bullying going on at WHS. It is from this that we will learn what we have to do to make sure these incidents do not continue.”
According to Zavetz, once an investigative report is completed the information will be shared with Dolan who will in turn share the information with the BOE. “The beauty of this…is that now we will have the opportunity to coordinate our efforts and share materials and resources across schools and grades so all students can benefit,” said Zavetz.
Latin teacher Mr. James Rowan said that the investigation requirements of the law will be a helpful change. “It will be good to have more people involved on the incident as opposed to one or two people investigating the matter,” said Rowan. He added that the new processes provide clearer guidelines to how teachers must respond to bullying incidents.
In attempts to teach about and prevent HIB, Governor Chris Christie has named this week, Oct. 3-7, Respect Week, requiring all school districts across the state to talk to their students about respect. For example, this week at WHS all English teachers were asked to give lessons on respect to their classes.
Said Mazzarese, “Through their English classes every WHS student was given the chance to engage in a conversation about respect, which will hopefully promote anti-bullying.”
The ultimate goal of the new HIB policies being implemented throughout the district is to put an end to bullying. Said Valanzano, “We have a zero tolerance policy; one case is too many.”