While the number of violent acts at Manchester schools appears to have quadrupled compared with the previous year, Superintendent of Schools David Trethaway said that is because the state now requires harassment, intimidation and bullying cases are included in that figure.
For the 2011-12 school year, 92 cases considered violence were reported throughout the district, compared to 24 the year prior. But of those 92 cases, 62 were HIB incidents previously not required to be reported along with violence.
"Basically, HIB is classified as a violent act. We don't have any leeway in that, regardless if it's name calling, threats or whatever, that's still considered in the violence category," Trethaway said during a presentation to the Board of Education last week.
Without the HIB incidents included in the violence figure, that category had 30 incidents, a number that is "mostly in line" with the 29 incident average over the past three school years. A state law that went into effect in September of 2011 requires that school districts to more actively combat and report HIB incidents.
Of the HIB incidents, 22 were reported at Manchester Township High School, 18 at the middle school, five at Regional Day School and 22 among the district's four elementary schools.
These types of incidents have always been addressed by school administrators, though they were not required to be reported annually.
"Not that they weren't reported with the rest, but they weren't necessarily labeled as harassment," Trethaway said.
Anti-bullying programs throughout the district have helped to "change the culture" among students, leading many to stand up to bullying, Trethaway said.
"We've seen the change in that. We've seen a change in some of the attitudes," he said. Students are reporting incidents to school staff, rather than letting them go unnoticed. "And that's a good thing. They're not allowing that, they're not tolerating that."
Of the 24 times police were called in 2011-12, complaints were filed nine times. Law enforcement was called 33 times in 2010-11 and 18 complaints were made, according to the report.
Trethaway said that the increase of in-school suspensions from one in 2010-11 to 49 in 2011-12 was because of the new law.
"That's because of HIB. A lot of the consequences are in-school suspension," he said, adding that the number includes repeat offenders serving more than one in-school suspension. Out of school suspensions rose from 57 in 2010-11 to 64 in 2011-12.
Weapons incidents declined from eight in 2010-11 to six in 2011-12.
"The key part there is that none of them were used in any acts of violence. They were possession — and they pretty much all involved knives, there were no firearms," Trethaway said.
Though only three substance abuse incidents were reported, Trethaway said that there are more students with an issue and many have sought help.
"Obviously, we know there are more things out there affecting our students than just three cases of substance abuse," Trethaway said. "The good news is that this does not include the number of referrals to the [Substance Assistance Counselor] and we had over 33 referrals to the SAC of students who were under the influence."
The students who seek help are not reported "as a way to encourage people to get help," the superintendent said.
None of the three vandalism incidents were major and did not cost the district any money.
"Overall I think the students take care of the buildings that we have," Trethaway said.
In one instance, students who shredded a bus seat each chipped in to pay for a replacement.