Union City schools reported the most incidents of violence, vandalism, and drugs and alcohol on campus of all of Hudson County’s districts during the 2006-2007 academic year, according to a report recently released by the New Jersey Department of Education.
The report states that Union City, with 9,760 students enrolled in the public schools, had 165 incidents of violence, 33 incidents of vandalism, 40 of “substances” found, and five of weapons, for a total of 243 instances.
By contrast, neighboring West New York, with 7,119 students, reported only 19 instances of violence, 27 of vandalism, one weapon report, and seven of substances, for 51 incidents.
However, Union City administrators and students say their schools are safe.
“When people say ‘violence,’ people think of guns, knives,” said Union City Substance Awareness Coordinator Dr. Michael DeNicola last week. “We really don’t have that.”
Union City Superintendent of Schools Stanley Sanger said that calling something at school an act of violence is sometimes a matter of semantics, and may just refer to a one-on-one fight or one student pushing another.
“We report everything in Union City,” said Sanger. “We believe in not sweeping anything under the rug in any way, shape, or form.”
He added, “I think we are being singled out because we are honest and upfront.”
He said that these statistics may just show that his district reports every incident.
“Violence is also considered a kid pushing another kid, bullying, intimidation, verbal harassment,” he said. “That has to be reported.”
Students react Several students approached at random at Union City High School last week said they didn’t know of any problems with violence in the school.
“I have never seen a fight here,” said Alejandro Zambrano, a senior at the school.
“I guess they keep it secret, because I haven’t heard anything,” said Moypa Khan, a senior.
“There are cameras in school, so no one can get away with using drugs or anything like that,” said Christian Cano, a junior. His cousin, David Cano, a sophomore, said he heard of one occurrence last year when two kids were caught on tape dealing drugs in the hallway.
In West New York In the West New York schools, the number of reported instances increased to 51 – up 65 percent from 31 the year before .
“I think there is always room for improvement,” said West New York Assistant Superintendent John Fauta. “We have not had anything major, like stabbings, recorded in the three, four years I have been an administrator.”
Fauta said that West New York has a police officer at each school and security cameras at the high school and middle school, as well as professional and peer counseling available to students who need it.
Fauta said that many of the preventative measures taken in West New York schools are funded by a recent federal grant of $100,000.
West New York introduced uniform shirts into the high school this year, which some national educators say reduces the ability to wear gang colors, and also identifies who is and who isn’t supposed to be on school premises.
“The uniforms worked out great,” said Fauta.
Methods in UC Like in West New York, Union City schools have social workers and youth programs to help kids through tough times, said Sanger.
Union City recently received $135,194 from the federal government to increase security at its largest elementary school, Edison School on West Street.
“The money will just go to Edison School for cameras and all equipment related to safety,” said Sanger.
He said that in addition to police and security guards, the two high school campuses and middle school already have security cameras.
Sanger said that the security cameras in Union City schools are connected to the Police Department.
Sanger also said that the schools work closely with police to train teachers and staff about gangs and make parents more aware of the dangers.
“We meet with parents in the community to educate them about some of the issues regarding gang awareness and violence,” said Sanger. “The gangs may not be in our schools, but there may be gang influence in the schools. It is our job to be sure that those attitudes and behaviors do not affect the learning climate in our schools.”
Sanger said that this is one of the reasons for having the students wear uniform shirts to school.
“One way of curtailing gangs in our schools is the uniform,” he said.
One senior agreed.
“The uniforms are helping a lot because it is making us focus more on school,” said Victor Espinoza. “It makes us come to school to study instead of just going to school to look pretty.”