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01/16/2017

Policy update proposal follows state lead on bullying prevention

The School Board is considering revisions to add "teeth and rigor" to current bullying-prevention policies.

Barbara Powers, School Board member who heads the policy subcommittee, presented draft revisions to the School Board's bullying and cyberbullying policy, administrative procedure and reporting forms at the board's meeting Jan. 10, 2017. Second reading and final approval is slated for Feb. 14.

The proposed changes reflect a movement to strengthen bullying prevention statewide, Powers said. She presented drafts from the Maine School Management Association, streamlined by both the School Department attorney and by school administrators.

"It really is the culmination of three months of looking," Powers said.

The policy committee will next meet at 5 p.m. Feb. 7 [please note time change] to finalize the drafts, which will also be subject to approval by the state Department of Education, Powers said.

She said she hopes the revisions do not change the tone suggested by the MSMA, but "we did change the report mechanism," she said, crediting High School Principal Jeff Shedd. "He took all the requirements of those forms and put them into this one sort of flowing investigation record document that captures the gist of what was required at every level: The witness statements, who's reporting, what are follow-up steps, summary of action taken, etc.," Powers said.

"We (also) added language so that assistant principals and school counselors also are part of the reporting group - wherever a student feels most comfortable going when they are experiencing a problem," she said.

The draft policy describes bullying and cyberbullying as a "pattern" of incidents, but board member John Voltz suggested single incidents where students gang up on one, or older students oppress younger, also be classified as bullying.

School Board Chair Elizabeth Scifres also asked that the policy documents convey the importance of timeliness in reporting and responding to school bullying.

The bullying and cyberbullying policy was created as a standalone policy in 2013, when it was separated from the weapons and violence policy at the direction of the state.