BERKELEY – Central Regional officials have put into place plans to help students deal with emotional emergencies and tightened policies on bullying, but parents say more needs to be done.
The district had released an action plan in the days after the suicide of Adriana Kuch. The freshman was recorded being attacked by several girls. This led to widespread disgust with bullying and demands that the officials respond.
A Parent Steering Committee and a Student Steering Committee gave stakeholders a voice at the table. Acting Superintendent Douglas Corbett said their recommendations entailed character education, exploring the root causes of disruptive behavior, and developing a system for anonymously offering suggestions for improvements without repercussions.
The following changes have been made:
- The district will launch the HELPme App developed by STOPit Solutions of Holmdel. The free App provides connections and access to resources for basic needs, 24/7 immediate crisis support, and a two-way communication channel with the school that protects privacy and dignity.
- Upgraded security monitoring of school premises, new classroom phone systems and an upgraded PA system.
- Staff are reviewing the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) policies and procedures. The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) will also review HIB and other procedures.
- A new school safety specialist has been appointed, and expanded duties are under review for the High School’s disciplinary dean.
- Staff will be trained and the number of anti-bullying specialists will be brought up to four.
- An assembly will be held with Dr. Michael “Mykee” Fowlin, a psychologist, performer, and poet, whose message builds a culture of inclusiveness. This was funded and supported by Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office.
- An assembly will be held with Dan Duddy, a motivational speaker focused on bullying, social media, and responsible choices.
- Ocean County College will run Mindfulness and Stress Management workshops for students.
- Central grad Megan McCafferty, bestselling author, will host a Therapeutic Writing Workshop.
- Several student organizations, such as the Kindness Crusaders, have also been reactivated, focused on peer-to-peer promotion of positive relationships and behaviors.
Corbett acknowledged the recommendations from many groups for improvements in the school district.
“More ideas and recommendations arrive every day. Regardless of whether an initiative is old or new, we are focused intently on engaging with our school families and many others, and implementing an improved, comprehensive approach to our student services, just as we do with our academic programming,” Corbett said in a statement. “With the help of many students, parents and guardians, our faculty and staff, outside experts and the broader community, I believe we are making progress.”
At the Board of Education meeting immediately following the tragedy, the high school auditorium was packed. Reporters were there from national and international news sources.
At the second meeting following the tragedy, there were maybe two dozen members of the public and only the two local news reporters. Part of this might have been the snowy weather or the fact that the date of the meeting had been changed.
“It’s pitiful to see the turnout,” said Cheryl Altieri, who attends almost every Central meeting. “If you only have a vested interest when we’re in crisis mode, shame on us.”
Resident John Galifi of Bayville thanked Corbett and the administration for listening to the Parent Committee. However, he said there has been a disconnect in the past that he was afraid would continue. If staff weren’t following policies and procedures in the past, then creating new policies and procedures is only part of the solution.
He also suggested that any time a staff member has to talk to a student about something not related to education, that a parent should be brought into the loop before this happens.
Kathy Fulcomer, a retired social studies teacher from another district whose husband Jim used to be a Berkeley Township School Board member, complimented the board on their conduct during the “raucous” prior meeting. She said that punishment for bullies has to be swift, severe, and sudden in order to drive the message home.
A recent grad thought it was great that the district put the names and titles of resources online for people if they need help. However, their titles don’t really explain what they can do. She asked for descriptions of what services they provide.
Megan Chase, a 2018 grad from Bayville, shared a story about when she talked back to a bully and got suspended. She and her father brought her right back to school to Corbett, who was the principal at the time.
“Through teary eyes, Corbett did hear me out and reversed my suspension,” she said, adding that fighting for rights and representing herself in this situation inspired her to go to law school. She said that news of the incidents that people are sharing indicates that the victims are still getting punished for coming forward.
Parent Joeshun Miller relayed a story of her daughter being disciplined because she spoke out about something negative that was making the rounds on social media. She said it was a slippery slope to start monitoring teens’ social media.
Members of the public said that cell phones should be banned, but others said they should be allowed.
Several people at the meeting noted that teaching kids not to be bullies needs to happen at home as well as at school.
Board President Denise Pavone-Wilson invited some of the members of the public to talk with them after the meeting