With 430 reported incidents of violence, vandalism, weapons, substance abuse, harassment, intimidation, and bullying in school year 2015-16, the city’s schools continued to hold the dubious distinction of having more incidents than any other school district in the state, according to a New Jersey Department of Education report made public on Monday afternoon.
There were 75 incidents of violence, 17 vandalism, 10 weapons, 153 substance abuse (drugs and alcohol), and 185 harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB), according to the report. The number of incidents, despite being high, are an improvement from the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, when the district had 454 and 494 incidents respectively.
The state report lists 430 total incidents, but the tally of the different types incidents add up to 440. More than one type of offense may be reported for a single incident, pointed out David Saenz, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education, citing a passage from the report.
School board president Christopher Irving said he is “alarmed and concerned” about the high numbers. However, he suggested other districts may be underreporting their numbers.
“We do a good job reporting every incident. We accurately report our information. We’re emphatic on being transparent about the challenges we have,” said Irving. Over the years, the district has encouraged its more than 50 schools to properly document and report bullying incidents.
Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the district, said the different types of incidents should not be combined into a total, but be viewed separately. “When you look at them separately, Paterson is not the highest – especially in relation to our student enrollment,” she said.
Bridgeton City with 5,750 students had the most violence in the state with 205 incidents. Newark with 58 incidents of vandalism had the most in the state. Newark and Elizabeth had the most reported incidents of weapons with 35 each. Paterson had the most substance abuse and HIB incidents in the state, according to the report.
“Just the fact we’re the highest in the entire state is something to be concerned about because we’re not the biggest district,” said Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, an education advocacy.
With 25,038 students Paterson is the third largest district in the state. It has had more reported incidents of violence, vandalism, weapons, substance abuse, harassment, intimidation, and bullying than any other district in the state for the past three school years, according to a review of state reports for the past three school years that provide district specific data.
The other two largest districts — Newark and Jersey City – had 382 and 201 total incidents in 2015-16 school year, according to the report.
Irving said the superintendent and the school board may have to develop an action plan to reduce the number of incidents. “It becomes difficult when you don’t have the money for security, substance abuse counselors, and mental health specialists, etc… That complicates things,” he said.
The district has laid off hundreds of employees in the past two school years due to budget shortfalls.
The increase in substance abuse incidents over the past several years can be connected to the reduction of substance abuse counselors. The district had 24 counselors in 2009-10 school year now it has 11.
Corallo said the district has implemented a number of initiatives over the past seven years to change culture and climate in schools. Initiatives included the implementation of New Jersey Positive Behavior Support in Schools (NJPBSIS), Paterson Effective Schools Model (a model that sets higher expectations for students and staff), and breaking up of comprehensive high schools into smaller academies.
“We need to put more supports in place to prevent these from happening,” said Grant referring to violence and vandalism. She said schools need to inculcate coping skills and encourage students to settle disputes with words rather than resorting to violence. Safe recreational spaces after school helps to reduce vandalism, she said.
This report was updated on Feb. 14, 2017 at 11:40 a.m.