Wall High School reported 43 incidents of bullying in the years before the soccer team opened an investigation

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In the five years prior to an investigation into alleged harassment in the football team’s dressing room, Wall High School reported 43 incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation among its students, according to a review of state reports.

The 43 incidents included confirmed cases of students being bullied for their sexual orientation, disability, race, and gender between the 2016-2017 and 2020-2021 school years, according to reports filed with the state and set out in the school district’s annual school performance reports .

The reports do not provide any information about the incidents or name the students involved. However, they say that between 2017 and 2020, none of the bullying cases were high enough to be reported to the police.

The reports fail to indicate whether any of the incidents harassed student athletes or dressing rooms.

Wall High School got the spotlight this month after soccer players allegedly tried to peg a younger teammate in the school’s locker room. Parents who said they saw video of the incident said one of the players was holding a mop or broomstick.

The alleged harassment is being investigated by the Monmouth County Attorney’s Office, who are also investigating separate reports of off-campus sexual assault against Wall students.

The case has raised questions about how effective New Jersey’s anti-bullying law – touted as one of the strongest in the nation – is in the state’s public schools. Some advocates have called for more training on bullying and more transparency on how widespread harassment and intimidation are in schools.

When asked about the Wall High School case on Friday, Governor Phil Murphy said the state “must at least consider doing more” to combat bullying and harassment in schools.

“It’s troubling to see some of the things that come out of Wall Township,” Murphy said. “We think we’re about as aggressive as any other state in America, but when you look at what’s going on here, you have to wonder if we can do more.”

Wall, who was vying for a section state championship, canceled the soccer team’s playoff game and their annual Thanksgiving game with Manasquan after troubling allegations became public earlier this month.

At an emotional school board meeting last week attended by about a hundred parishioners, some students and parents claimed Wall High School had a long history of bullying and intimidation.

They described incidents where a boy with Down syndrome was forced to have sex on a soccer player in 2012, another boy was forced to crawl through urine in a bathroom, and other students were assaulted in locker rooms and by athletes, with some cases dating back decades .

Current students enter Wall High School under a banner reading “You are entering a bully-free zone” hanging near the main office. However, some said that the signs and guidelines have little effect on how students interact with one another.

“I walk around for lunch and there is a sign on the wall that says ‘Bullys go home’,” a current student who identified herself as a 15-year-old freshman told the school board. “Well, if the bullies are going to go home, then about half of my class should be going home because I see incidents of bullying every day. Boys treat girls like objects, boys treat other boys like objects. “

The state data shows that Wall High School has been investigating incidents of bullying, harassment, and intimidation every year since the state began publishing this information publicly in school performance reports. The high school has an anti-bullying staff specialist, anti-bullying policy, and allegation reporting and investigation system as required by state law.

In 2019-2020, a school year in which classroom teaching was cut short due to the COVID pandemic, Wall High School reported five confirmed incidents of bullying, according to state statistics. A further 10 incidents were reported in 2018-2019, 17 incidents in 2017-2018 and seven incidents in 2016-2017.

The latest school achievement reports for the 2020-2021 school year are not yet publicly available, but Wall High School said on its website that there were four alleged cases of bullying, harassment and intimidation this year – although many students spend part of the year studying spent virtually.

According to state statistics, Wall is a relatively wealthy and largely white school district. The high school is 85% white and about 10% of its students are low income. According to the latest statistics, it has a 98% graduation rate and 92% of students who applied for college.

Some of the incidents over the past five years have been identified as bullying and harassment related to sexual orientation, disability, race, and gender. But the majority of confirmed cases of bullying at Wall High School were classified as “other” by school officials, which gave no indication of the nature of the incidents or whether they took place in locker rooms or other locations.

There is no category in the reports for verbally abusing athletes.

It’s hard to tell whether the incidents of bullying reported by Wall High School – 43 confirmed cases over five school years – are high or low for a public high school with about 1,050 students. The country reports do not offer a school comparison.

The number of bullying cases reported by nearby Monmouth County high schools varies widely.

Freehold Township High School, which has twice as many students as Wall, reported 43 confirmed incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation between 2016 and 2020. Howell High School, with approximately 2,000 students, reported 28 cases over the same four-year period, while Jackson Memorial High School, with approximately 1,500 students, reported only 6 incidents.

None of the schools has yet publicly released their numbers for the 2020-2021 school year.

Experts say it is difficult to judge a school based on reported bullying incidents. Low numbers could indicate a school with a culture that discourages bullying, but they could also indicate a school that does not make it easy or convenient for students to report incidents.

Since the data is reported by the school administrators themselves, some anti-bullying groups also ask how exactly they represent the true climate in each school. There is no data showing how students feel about bullying in school.

“New Jersey is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to an accurate picture, including statistical, of the student experience in schools. The state relies almost entirely on administrators’ self-reports on school conditions, including levels of bullying in schools, ”said Stuart Green, director of the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention and assistant director of the Family Medicine Program at Overlook Medical Center.

In 2011, New Jersey enacted the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights under the then administration. Chris Christie. It was considered groundbreaking anti-bullying legislation at the time, changing the way public schools handle and report cases.

However, schools have limited information about violence and bullying in schools without parental consent. Those rules will be relaxed with new laws due to go into effect next year, Green said. But for now, the information is limited to the bare data on cases reported by each school.

“The data reported by the state are absurdly inaccurate and greatly underestimate the level of bullying in schools,” said Green.

The Education Law Center, one of the advocacy groups pushing anti-bullying legislation, criticized how the state collected data on bullying and presented it to the public and parents. The center has requested more detailed statistics showing year-on-year comparisons and trends.

“Understanding the violence our students face is critical and we need a complete picture to meet this challenge,” said Rich Frost, Legal Advisor for the Education Law Center, in a 2019 report. in which the school’s safety data was analyzed.

Wall Township Public Schools officials said little about the alleged incident involving the school’s soccer team.

At the last school committee meeting, Superintendent Tracy Handerhan read a statement saying the county had opened an internal investigation into harassment, intimidation and bullying and contacted state child protection agencies as soon as it learned of the allegations.

Now that the case has been taken over by the Monmouth County Attorney’s Office, the school is no longer investigating and the county cannot provide any further information, the superintendent said.

“I understand that frustration grows when questions are answered without answers due to the mandatory confidentiality. I hear the concern. Please note that all student and staff matters must remain confidential in order not to endanger the safety and well-being of the students at Wall Township Public School, “Handerhan said in a message to parents and students.

Employed author Matt Arco contributed to this report.

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Kelly Heyboer can be reached at [email protected].

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