Administration encouraging students to report incidents with online form

by Andrew Kastelman, Business Development and Marketing Manager

Students scramble the halls throughout the day, moving between classes. After school many students participate in clubs or sports. Interaction occurs everywhere at high school, much of it unseen. Hostile interactions are caused, and students must be taught to be kinder and more empathetic. 

These interactions are broken down into three categories by the state of New Jersey: Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB). 

In November the high school launched an online HIB Incident Reporting Form. The form, created by Vice Principal Tina Bacolas, is an anonymous way to report HIB incidents. Before this, there was a hand-written form available to students. However, the administration believed that students should have the right to an anonymous reporting method to protect students who are reporting an incident. 

Physical Education teacher Michael Escalante, the High School Anti-Bullying Specialist, believes the new anonymous feature is a smart idea.

“Unfortunately, some people are shy to come forward,” Escalante said.

To date, the school has had four incidents reported using the online form. 

When an incident is reported, Bacolas and Principal John Arlotta immediately receive a notification. After review, Arlotta or Bacolas turn the incident over to Escalante. Escalante then investigates the situation by interviewing involved parties to determine what’s going on. 

Bacolas said that the form cannot be traced back to its submitter. 

“There is no way to trace as we wanted it to be truly anonymous,” Bacolas said. 

She’s not, however, overly concerned about false reports.

“We’re kind of depending on our students to be honest and so forth. To date, we haven’t had a problem with a false report. Everything I’ve investigated has turned out to have some element of validity to it,” Bacolas said.

New Jersey law requires each school to have a HIB form. While the incidents reported vary between each school, all students have the right to report. 

“I think bullying is definitely a problem at, you know, any school at any level, for sure. 

And we’re obviously striving to have zero bullying cases,” Escalante said.

Escalante is encouraged with the progress the high school is making in that regard.

“I think we’re doing a good job here of kind of educating everyone,” Escalante said. “What’s the difference between joking around and bullying.”

The Middle School and High School worked together to create the form, and each have constant reminders about limiting HIB throughout the school year through assemblies and announcements.

Looking forward, Bacolas wants students to know that there is always someone to talk to and many ways to report HIB incidents. 

“I’d rather have students always come talk to us. Character building and being able to talk to adults and communicate problems is an important skill for students to have,” Bacolas said, adding that she prefers when students come in person to talk about issues.