The State College Area School District released high school safety information in response to “recent physical altercations and increased racial tensions,” according to a report delivered to the board on Monday.
Report by Deputy Superintendent Curtis Johnson and State College Area High School Principal Laura Tobias presents data on school assaults, fights, minor altercations and harassment from 2015 to 2022 .
“As a district, we are constantly striving to create a safer and more welcoming environment for our students,” Johnson and Tobias wrote in the council’s update, which follows an assault linked to a racist photo in February. .
Incidents of harassment, fighting and intimidation have dropped significantly since 2015. The district has had a peak of 21 fights in 2017-18, down from seven so far in 2021-22. The district has had no reports of sexual harassment this school year and one report of racial bullying.
The report only compiles cases that were reported to the administration and resulted in a consequence. It also does not take into account fights that occur off school property or harassment on social media, places the district has no jurisdiction.
“There are a variety of reasons why incidents might go unreported or result in disciplinary action,” Johnson said at the board meeting. “Some students may report to confidential school sources such as counselors, additionally, some students may request that the incident not be reported to the administration.
The school received 621 reports this year through Safe2Say, the state’s anonymous tip line for students, parents and staff. The tips help reduce the overall numbers, alerting the administration to problems in advance, Tobais told CDT.
“We were able to introduce restorative practices and have conversations with students and families before it even turned into a physical altercation or whatever,” Tobias said.
The school reported an incidence of racial bullying in the 2021-2022 school year, but race-related incidents accounted for 81% of 25 reports made to the Respond, Engage, Advocate, Communicate and Teach team ( REACT) of the school in 2021-2022. school year. The REACT team does not deal with punishment but strives to educate and use restorative justice to mend relationships, Tobias said.
What do students and parents think about safety at State High?
According to the PA Youth Survey, 90.3% of students felt safe at school in 2021-22. But despite the overall decline in reports of violence, some parents remain concerned about fights and harassment.
Eric Dreibelbis, father of a state high school student, said he was considering removing his son from the district after repeated harassment, including a physical assault that occurred outside of school in December.
“I think the teachers or the administrator, they just can’t do anything. I think they feel like their hands are tied,” Dreibelbis said.
Mike Bennett, parent of another senior at the school, is also worried about his son’s safety after an altercation with several students in November. Bennett said he didn’t feel heard by the district when he asked what would happen with his son’s case and believes the security report is not an accurate representation of what is happening at the school interior.
Initiatives, programs aimed at improving the school climate
Since the start of the year, the district has focused on faculty and staff working to build relationships with students. The report also listed several programs and initiatives in the report to help improve student safety and the overall school climate.
These programs include increasing teachers and security guards present in hallways and bathrooms before, during and after the school day. Tobias said the administration is adjusting routes and schedules to ensure teachers and staff are there to help supervise students.
English teachers from all high school grades discussed with students about reporting incidents of bullying or violence as part of the No Place for Hate program.
The school recently hosted a Student Problem Identification and Problem Solving Together (SPIRIT) program in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Justice to address concerns about the school climate. A group of 12 students was elected to work with the administration on how to improve school safety and attitudes.
Although incidents of violence have decreased, district officials say student behavior has been heavily impacted by the pandemic.
“We are seeing an increase in teen mental health needs due to isolation caused by COVID, significant spikes in depression, anxiety, etc.,” said Seria Chatters, Director of Diversity and inclusion of the district in an interview with CDT.
The district has increased mental health supports for students and faculty to help them deal with mental and emotional health needs. Chatters said that by taking care of mental health, the district was able to reduce negative behaviors and increase school attendance and academic achievement.
At Monday’s meeting, board member Laurel Zydney expressed a concern shared by parents about the effectiveness of restorative justice in cases of harassment or bullying.
Johnson said the administration has received training to deal with these incidents and is in contact with an attorney who specializes in helping schools with student safety.
“I believe in the role of restorative practices, I truly believe in the need to provide more support, more guidance and more direction to those involved in any harmful behavior,” said Dan Duffy, board member administration.