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Garden State Coalition of Schools
Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
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10-3-12 Education in the News

  • Washington Post-Associated Press - NJ counts school bullying incidents for 1st time under new law - 12K in 2011-12 academic year
  • The Record - N.J. schools serving breakfast to only a third of those eligible

Washington Post-Associated Press - NJ counts school bullying incidents for 1st time under new law - 12K in 2011-12 academic year

By Associated Press, Published: October 2AP

New Jersey education officials now have some handle on just how much bullying happens in the state’s public schools. Data made public Tuesday show there were 12,024 instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying reported in the 2011-12 school year — the first year the state’s tough new anti-bullying law was in effect.

New Jersey used a new definition of the behaviors, so there are no previous data for comparison. The numbers of incidents reported Tuesday vary widely by district and may reflect how diligent each school is at reporting, rather than how much bullying there is.

Bullying in school, once written off as just something kids have to deal with, has evolved into a serious issue. New Jersey was among a wave of states that passed anti-bullying laws a decade ago after the school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

In 2012, it’s far more widely seen as a real problem. On Tuesday, a television anchorwoman in La Crosse, Wis., went on air with a four-minute segment criticizing a man who emailed her about her weight. Jennifer Livingston called the man a bully and told young viewers not to let people like him affect them.

New Jersey’s law got an overhaul, which advocates said made it the nation’s toughest, in a law passed in 2010 and signed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011. Though the bill was already in the works, attention given to the 2010 suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, whose freshman-year roommate used a webcam to watch him kissing another man, resulted in quick passage of the state’s new law.

Now, schools are required to have anti-bullying programs and coordinators while those measures previously had been merely recommended.

And schools are required to report instances of bullying to the state.

In the state’s report tabulating those reports for the first time, Woodbridge, a district with more than 13,000 students, had the most reported incidents, with 177. Newark, the state’s largest school district with more than 39,000 pupils last year, had 105 reported incidents.

In Camden’s school district, there were 35 reported incidents. But at D.U.E. Season, a small charter school in Camden — and not considered part of the school district — there were 16.

Some mid-size districts reported no bullying incidents.

The state also says that there were fewer assaults, fights, criminal threats, robbery, extortion and vandalism last year, compared with the previous school year.

While relatively small numbers, there were more cases of students caught with guns and drugs at school.

Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield, N.J.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


The Record - N.J. schools serving breakfast to only a third of those eligible


New Jersey schools served free or reduced-price breakfast last spring to one of three poor children who qualified for it — a significant increase over recent years but still placing the state 48th in the national school breakfast program, according to a report released Tuesday.

In Bergen and Passaic counties, about 29 percent of eligible children ate subsidized breakfasts in March, meaning that the schools missed out on nearly $14 million in federal reimbursements they could obtain if all 61,000 qualifying children took part every day in the past academic year.

Overall, there are about 20,000 eligible students in Bergen and more than twice that number in Passaic.

“We spend billions of dollars on education, and if the kids are hungry they’ll struggle to learn,” said Nancy Parello, a spokeswoman for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which issued the report.

Supporters say giving needy children breakfast helps them concentrate and behave, and the service costs districts little or no money. If New Jersey — which has long had one of the lowest participation rates in the country — reached just 60 percent of eligible children, it would reap $22.6 million in additional federal funding, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

The importance of the school breakfast program comes against a backdrop of rising child poverty and a push by advocates to have schools serve breakfast early in the school day — but after the bell has sounded. Those advocates say many schools have been unable to get children to arrive early enough for breakfast before that first bell rings, so it’s important to serve it in the first few minutes of the school day — during morning announcements, attendance and other warm-up activities.

Some, however, argue it is up to parents, not taxpayers, to feed breakfast to their own children. Some also note the program can be easily abused, citing a recent scandal in Elizabeth, where the school board president was indicted for allegedly lying about her income to get her children free meals.

High-poverty districts in North Jersey that made progress recently include the cities of Passaic and Garfield, the report said. In Garfield, Superintendent Nich­olas Perrapato said the district set up tables at back-to-school night to show examples of the free breakfasts, and that inspired more parents to have their children participate.

“It’s vital that kids get a good nutritional meal in their stomachs in the morning,” he said.

The report cited “breakfast champions,” with high participation rates, including Hackensack, where 71 percent of eligible students ate breakfast. Interim Superintendent Joseph Abate said the schools sent the breakfast menu home on the back of the daily lunch menu to spur interest. He said free breakfast is available to all students regardless of income, which avoids stigmatizing students who rely on it.

“The Board of Education recognized that, as a result of our successful lunch program, we have balances, so the board decided to give back to students,” he said.

Other Bergen and Passaic districts cited as “breakfast underachievers” included Lodi, Fairview, Cliffside Park, Haledon and Prospect Park. In Fairview, Superintendent Louis DeLisio said he would recommend to the board that the district start grab-and-go breakfasts.

“Some principals aren’t so thrilled; because of the cleanup time — it takes a little time away from instruction,” he said. “But in general they realize it does benefit the kids.”

Statewide, about 164,500 |New Jersey schoolchildren ate sub­sidized school breakfast in March, an increase of about 21 percent since October 2010, according to the report.

That followed a publicity campaign launched last year by Advocates for Children of New Jersey to prod schools to try “breakfast after the bell.” The group also enlisted state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf to encourage the idea and he sent out a memo in January saying breakfast can be counted within required amounts of instructional time.

More districts are now trying that approach, including Paterson, where only 27 percent of the eligible children ate breakfast at school last spring. In a pilot project starting this month, School 8 and School 9 will serve breakfast after the bell.

Linda Reid, a grandparent of five and a parent leader at the Paterson Education Organizing Committee, said a range of obstacles kept children from eating free breakfast when it was served before classes.

“It’s hard to get across town with traffic,” she said. “Some children have to take siblings to another school. Sometimes they get distracted when they see their friends and forget about breakfast. For some, the only meals they get are at school. If they get to school late and the cafeteria people tell them breakfast is over, they go to class and start acting up or go to the nurse” — who might have snacks.

State law requires districts to serve breakfast if 20 percent or more of their children are eligible. A family of four earning less than $30,000 qualifies for free school meals, while a family of four earning $42,000 a year qualifies for reduced-price meals.

A rising number are that needy. The advocacy group said roughly 98,000 more children qualified last year than five years earlier.

The report highlighted districts that found creative ways to prevent messes inside classrooms. North Brunswick, for example, offers pancakes with maple syrup baked inside to avoid sticky spills.

Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, said that with the recent focus on improving education by overhauling tenure and teacher evaluations, many schools had overlooked the critical importance of simply filling children’s stomachs so they can think.

“The biggest questions are when do you serve it, how do you serve it and when do you clean it up,” she said. “Those issues can be resolved.”

Email: brody@northjersey.com

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608