WAYNE, N.J. (PIX11) — Middle school years can be rough. But at Anthony Wayne Middle School in Wayne, New Jersey, bullying is unfortunately making it harder for a growing number of students.
“A lot of people make fun of other kids and stuff. It’s pretty bad,” said eighth grader Rania, who was with her mother.
Wayne school officials are reportedly seeing a 30% increase in bullying incidents across the entire district compared to last year, with a number of them happening at Anthony Wayne.
“I think it’s terrible that kids could treat other kids unfairly,” said Wayne resident Joann Murphy.
One Wayne parent posted on Facebook, “2 out of 4 of my children are experiencing consistent bullying from children in their schools. Something needs to be done…”
Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback sent PIX11 News a statement defending the district’s handling of the cases.
It reads in part, “…we investigate each claim. This being the case, the number of total reported cases tends to be higher. The important point is that after investigation and evaluating each case, only 35%-40% of reported cases turn out to be confirmed cases of HIB.”
HIB stands for “harassment, intimidation, and bullying,” and it is certainly not an issue just in Wayne.
Jonathan Ettman, a Wayne parent, town councilman and attorney, said about 40% of his practice now focuses on bullying incidents across New Jersey.
Ettman said that while he doesn’t have enough information to comment on any of Wayne’s reported bullying incidents, children pay the price, both physically and emotionally.
“The school district has a non-delegable duty to protect children once they walk through the schoolhouse gate. There’s a Latin term — loco parentis — meaning the school is serving in the role of the parent,” Ettman said.
According to the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center, one out of five (20.2%) students report bullying, 41% of bullied students thought it would happen again, and most bullying occurs in hallways/stairwells (42%) and classrooms (42%).
Jane Clementi now focuses full time on HIB prevention after her son Tyler killed himself in 2010 while attending Rutgers University after he was bullied for his sexuality.
“I think if we want to decrease bullying behavior, we have to increase empathy, and we have to include some social/emotional learning within our school districts by sharing stories and making sure everyone knows it’s OK to be different,” Clementi said.
Parents are expected to continue expressing their opinions online and during Thursday’s scheduled school board meeting.