Pinelands Regional Schools Plagued By Vandalism Inside and Out

By RICK MELLERUP | May 22, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Little Egg Harbor Township — The Pinelands Regional School District has a vandalism problem. District Superintendent Melissa McCooley said so early in the May 15 board of education meeting during her Superintendent’s Update.

“We are going to have to look at our discipline from this past year,” she said when talking about what the board should be considering when moving forward, “and we have had some concerns with vaping, bathrooms being vandalized, and such. It was a lot with everyone being in one building; we get that. We’re going to take an in-depth look at that, and I’m meeting with students next week and I’ve met with the staff already, and we’re going to have a follow-up meeting and we’re going to come up with a plan for the next school year for discipline.”

How bad had the vandalism situation become? It had grown to the point where some of the junior high school’s restrooms had to be closed. That was inconvenient at best, considering all PRSD students save for the seventh grade, which had been housed in the Little Egg Harbor School District, occupied the junior high during the 2018-19 school year because of the closing of the high school building for repairs. The junior high building was stuffed to the gills, even with the addition of temporary classroom units, a.k.a, trailers.

“I got numerous phone calls from parents, and there were some concerns about the bathrooms, whether they were open or not and why or why not,” said McCooley. “I want to say a little update on that. The A Wing bathroom downstairs is continually open. We do not shut that one unless it’s vandalized; then it has to be shut down until it’s repaired. The other bathrooms in this school, prior to spring break, were being locked in between classes, because as I said earlier, we don’t always have coverage and, unfortunately, when a teacher wasn’t sitting there, the bathroom was being vandalized. So, after spring break we opened everything up again, and we did have some vandalized – and, as I said, then they’re shut down until they can be repaired and then they’re opened again. But we do hear your concerns. It’s kind of a no-win situation because we want to make sure the students have the bathroom opportunities. However, when they’re vandalized, they have to be shut down anyway until they’re fixed. So, for next year we do want to move forward with a different plan, and as I said, if we can get some parent volunteers, that would be amazing, just to kind of help out coverage-wise. But we are looking to solve that issue.”

McCooley wants parents to become more involved with the school community, including serving as bathroom monitors. They would have to be fingerprinted and have a background check before they could do so. A major question – how many parents would have the time to do so?

On the night after the meeting, vandals struck again, and this time it wasn’t bathrooms that were the victim.

McCooley notified the school community the next afternoon on Facebook.

“As you may be aware, the front of the high school was vandalized last night at approximately midnight. The police were involved in the investigation because of the extent of the damages. Along with (Vice Principal) Mr. (Darren) Hickman’s assistance, the police apprehended and arrested the two students directly involved in the vandalism. Unfortunately, these were our students. When contacted by the authorities, my request was to pursue criminal charges against those involved in this heinous act to the fullest extent.

“Mr. (John) Bellone (supervisor of buildings and grounds) and his team spent over 10 hours removing the destruction that had occurred. A special thank-you to Stafford schools, LEH MUA (Little Egg Harbor Municipal Utilities Authority) and Kenny P. of Island Automotive for their assistance with the cleanup.

“This pointless act of defamation of school property will not be tolerated.”

The Little Egg Harbor Police Department issued a press release that said officers were dispatched to the Pinelands campus at approximately 6:30 a.m. Graffiti, in the form of spray-painted obscene language and drawings, was discovered on a concrete sign board and the bronze wildcat statue that welcomes people to the high school.

An investigation was launched, led by School Resource Officer Dan Ivancich and Detective Cpl. Chris Arciniegas. Witnesses and video surveillance led to the arrest of two juveniles, one a Pinelands student and the other a student at Southern Regional High School.

— Rick Mellerup

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