Morris County Officials announced during their September 21, 2023, presentation to the underclassmen at Mount Olive High School that Morris County Prosecutor's Office Supervising Assistant Prosecutor Samantha DeNegri and Sergeant Patrick LaGuerre debuted a series of educational PSA videos.
According to officials, the MCPO created the video vignettes to enhance its ongoing Anti-Bias/Bullying program.
Also in attendance were First Assistant Prosecutor Maggie Calderwood and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Tia Manochio.
Officials said the MCPO routinely conducts presentations at public and private schools throughout Morris County to teach students about bias incidents/crimes, cyber harassment, and making smart choices about social media and digital communication.
The presentations also allow law enforcement to connect directly with students, officials say.
Last school year, the MCPO conducted over a dozen such assemblies in Morris, Sussex, Union, and Warren counties, officials stated.
Officials say the vignettes will be incorporated into the program during the 2023-2024 school year and were made possible with talent from local high school students and director and producer James Calderwood of Calderwood Multimedia LLC.
The videos stress the importance of exercising good judgment, officials stated, when it comes to interacting with peers and determining what to post online, as how a student conducts themselves today could potentially impact their future.
The presenters explained the difference between bias crimes and bias incidents, cautioning students that their school administrators can choose to take disciplinary action even if an incident isn't considered criminal.
They stressed to the students the importance of reporting any potential bias incident or bullying, whether committed against them personally or another student, which can be done anonymously, according to officials.
Officials said social media and technology document everything, even "deleted" or "temporary" photos and messages can be potentially shared and subsequently accessed during an investigation through the device or via a digital warrant sent to the app company.
SAP DeNegri explained Morris County takes a zero-tolerance approach to threats of school violence, and there are consequences and corrective actions that must be taken, even when students claim their comments were intended as a joke.
According to officials, the MCPO's educational program is expanding beyond Morris County, with the goal of reaching students and faculty in all 21 New Jersey counties.
Last spring, the Morris County Prosecutor's Office held a "Train the Trainer" program to introduce its Anti-Bias/Bullying program to the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, officials stated.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Carroll said, "Teenagers today are growing up in a digital, visual world. These video vignettes seek to connect with them in a way they are familiar with. At the same time, the MCPO's vigorous program brings face-to-face communication with our students to private and public schools around Morris County and beyond."
"As I've said before, it is critical to address bias with our youth before these bad faith ideals take root. We aim to enable our students to make smart choices for the sake of their futures."