Guidance Supervisor Outlines New Anti-Bullying Practices
Joan Mei is the district's coordinator for harassment, intimidation and bullying procedures
During an update about the district's counseling offerings for students, the guidance supervisor outlined how staff members have implemented the new anti-bullying legislation that went into effect in September.
Supervisor of Guidance Joan Mei spoke during the Westwood Regional Board of Education meeting last week to outline how the district has handled the changes in policy and answer any questions from board members and the public.
Mei serves as the coordinator for the district's harassment, intimidation and bullying procedures (HIB). The district also has four anti-bullying specialists who investigate allegations of HIB: Jillian Tuosto for Westwood Jr./Sr. High School, Kelly Paredes for Westwood Regional Middle School, Jenn Claydon for Berkeley and Brookside schools and GraceAnn Furnari for George and Washington schools.
Under district procedures, Mei said a verbal report is given to a building principal, who then contacts the appropriate anti-bullying specialist (ABS). The ABS investigates the allegation; parents are contacted; reports are submitted to the principal, superintendent and parents; and the superintendent reports to the Board of Education.
Mei explained the definition of HIB as "any gesture, written communication, physical or verbal act or electronic communication that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or any other distinguishing characteristic."
HIB can be a single incident or repeated, can occur on or off school grounds and is action that substantially disrupts school operations or the rights of students, Mei said.
There is a difference between HIB and conflict, Mei explained. She said HIB involves an imablance of power when one individual is the victim. Conflict includes participation from two sides, like an argument, and is a normal part of life, Mei said.
Each district building has a School Safety Team to create a positive environment and address HIB. Team members include the principal (or a designee), a teacher in the building, the ABS (who chairs the team), a parent of a student in the school and any members the principal deems necessary. Mei said the parent does not attend every meeting, estimating two per year, and said the team would not discuss any specific cases in the presence of the parent for privacy reasons.
To keep the public informed about the number of HIB instances, the superintendent will report at a public meeting twice per year all acts of violence, vandalism and HIB that were reported. He will also keep board members informed of HIB incidents as well as the New Jersey Department of Education. Mei said the NJDOE receives a breakdown of the number of HIB incidents per school.
Parents who are informed about a HIB incident can request a public hearing in front of the school board, which must be held within 10 days of the request in executive session. School board members render a written decision after the hearing that affirms, rejects or modifies the superintendent's decision.
One resident asked if staff members were overwhelmed by the new legislation and inundated with paperwork. Superintendent Geoffrey Zoeller said the district was in good shape to follow the new regulations because there was already a strict policy in place.
"We were largely doing many of the things the law called for before the law was even dreamt up," Zoeller said. "It hasn't been a huge paradigm shift for us."
Middle school Principal Charles Seipp said, "Doing proactive measures is probably the best thing," pointing to the middle school's positive behavior program that has been successful.
Washington School Principal Rachelle Parker said training has been extensive on the subject, including for lunch and recess aides, and the school is prepared for when substitute teachers are on duty. She added that she has found reports of bullying are often determined to be conflicts.
"We're learning what this is all about," Parker said.