School Substance Abuse Report Questioned

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  JACKSON – Board members heard the semi-annual Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) report presented by School District Anti-Bullying Coordinator Raymond Milewski at a recent meeting.

  Each of the school district’s 10 schools has an anti-bullying specialist.

  Milewski said during his HIB presentation that the district observed its annual week of respect in October that included HIB prevention assemblies at every school for every grade level.

  The program also focused on social emotional/character education, diversity/equity and district wide suicide prevention education.

  He also told the Board that the State Department of Education began collecting this type of data from all school districts back in March of 2002 and “the objective of this was to collect data concerning serious student misconduct in the areas of violence, vandalism, bullying, weapons and substance abuse.”

  A PowerPoint presentation showing the various incidents broken down per school and compared to the same time period of 2019 was shown to the Board and the public.

  “There is a significant decrease in the numbers from the reporting period of 2019 to the reporting period of 2020. The decrease is attributed to that the numbers of 2019 were pre-pandemic and our students were attending school in person as opposed to our current situation in our remote and hybrid structure,” Milewski added.

  He noted in the area of the school district’s secondary schools, they went from nine in 2019 to three HIB investigations with one confirmed report of a HIB incident in 2020.

  Regarding the break down of vandalism and substance abuse, Mikewski said incidents of violence went from 13 in 2019 to zero in 2020, four incidents of vandalism in 2019 to zero in 2020 and 26 reported HIB incidents in 2019 to four last year.

  Incidents involving weapons also decreased from two to zero from 2019 to 2020 while substance abuse incidents dropped from 17 to one between that same time period.

  “We had one substance report and that was for marijuana possession,” he added. The police were notified in this case. There were no in-school suspensions and one out of school suspension.

  In his harassment and bullying report, Milewski added, “for report period one of our current school year our one confirmed HIB was over political views.” He said investigations often concern examining text and social media messages. Counseling, suspension or placement in social skill groups are the response from the district.

  “The numbers were significantly lower to what we typically see,” Milewiski acknowledged.

  Board member Scott Sargent was a bit skeptical about the data and asked “where did you get those facts?”

  “The HIB data is what I typically compile through our HIB district program. When an HIB investigation is conducted all that data is recorded in our district program,” Milewski said.

  “So, it should all match what the Board receives. All of our students from September to December are all angels except one. Is that correct when it comes to substance abuse?” Sargent asked.

  Milewski responded, “we had one reported case. If you want to categorize the others as angels…”

  “I don’t know what other term to use. We have that many angels in our school. Is there another way to describe it?” Sargent asked.

  Superintendent Nichole Pormilli interjected saying, “I think we have not had a lot of reporting happening so it may not necessarily be that things haven’t been happening but they weren’t reported to investigate.”

  “Why weren’t they reported?” Sargent asked.

  “We had a lot less students in our schools this year which is why our numbers are so low,” she answered.

  Sargent said, “I think what you are indicating to me then is reported or recorded no matter how you would like to say it. You are only saying we have only one student that committed an offense.”

  “Investigated, reported, and recorded that is correct,” Promilli responded.

  Sargent then asked how many students there were in the school system at that time who went to school.

  Pormilli said that was 30% “of what we normally have. We have a lot of students who have remote learning.” She said if students reported bullying there would be an investigation.

  “We have cases of seeing it happen or an administrator reports it or a student reports it or a parent reports it. I can believe the numbers are low because we have not had students in our classroom,” Pormilli said.

  Sargent repeated his question once again asking that of all the students in the district at that time only one had committed an offense of substance abuse.

  “That is correct that is what our data indicates,” the superintendent confirmed.

  “Does that indicate that our kids are angels or are we asleep at the wheel? What is the reason?” Sargent asked.

  “I don’t think we were asleep at the wheel,” Pormilli said.

  During the public comment period of the meeting Sargent’s remarks received criticism by parent Jackie Capasso. She commented, “He shouldn’t have made the comment of ‘are our kids all angels.’ He should not have spoken like that. I’m not the only one who felt that way (in the audience). That was insulting.”