BETHEL — About 40 people attended a meeting at Telstar High School on Thursday on the issue of bullying.
The gathering included presentations by SAD 44 school administrators and Sarah Ricker, the student assistance coordinator for the Maine Department of Education.
The process begins when school staff receives a report of alleged bullying, which may come from a student, parent, staff member, community member or anyone else who witnesses an incident perceived as bullying.
Interim measures are taken to ensure the safety of the student who has been bullied and to prevent further bullying, and parents of students are contacted.
School staff interview the victim, witnesses, and the alleged bully, and review all available evidence.
If the behavior is determined to meet the state’s definition of bullying, remediation procedures are begun.
If it is found to be of a criminal nature, law enforcement authorities are notified.
The procedure for remediation may include disciplinary consequences such as detention, suspension, or expulsion; alternative discipline, including counseling, reflective activities, anger management, or community service; support for the victim; and/or other interventions.
Telstar High School Principal Cheryl Lang said she thinks communication between schools and families has been greatly improved under the new policy, particularly with regard to closure.
“Now we actually document it in writing,” she said, “and we document it for both the alleged victim and the alleged bully. We notify parents in writing that the investigation has come to a conclusion, and what are the safety measures and what are the consequences that we have put in place, and how we plan on moving forward from there.”
The panel of building administrators took questions and heard remarks from those in attendance, several of whom wanted assurance that the new policy would lead to improved outcomes with regard to instances of bullying.
Community member Beth Weisberger said the methods of remediation under the new policy, while innovative, appear to be complex and time-consuming.
“While I agree with it in principle, a lot of it will fall on your social worker and counselor,” she said. “Is Telstar really equipped with someone who has the time (for the protocol in the policy)? Are you guys ready to do this, and who’s doing it?”
Superintendent David Murphy said the district had just hired another social worker, giving the Telstar complex two full-time social workers and a part-time one, as well as a guidance counselor.
State guidelines call for one counselor/social worker for 315 students at the middle school level and 225 at the high school level.
Murphy said Telstar has a total of 380 students in the middle and high schools, giving them 3.5 positions, two more than the state lists under its Essential Programs and Services formula.
“We also have a person who does all of our special ed social work on top of that,” he said.
Transportation Supervisor Ron Deegan discussed the role of bus drivers in recognizing, preventing and reporting bullying behavior, and the training they receive.
“We have cameras in the buses and that’s a great tool,” he said.
Building administrators are able to review audio and video recordings taken on buses to determine if bullying or other inappropriate behavior has taken place.
Crescent Park Elementary School Principal Elaine Ferland told the audience that communication and reporting by students and parents are key to resolving issues of bullying.
“We all know that bullying doesn’t happen in front of us. It’s going to happen in places where there are no adults around,” she said.
“It’s so important that kids speak up and we need to teach them that,” she said.
Ricker praised the staff and parents of the district.
“I go all over the state having these conversations, but this conversation is a little unique,” she said. “You guys have so many great ideas. It can be really hard to have these conversations, but when your kids are coming home and talking to you, you’ve got to give yourself two thumbs-up as a parent, because not all kids go home and talk to their parents.”
For the complete district policy on bullying go to http://www.sad44.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?dir=J_Students&type=d&uREC_ID=299905.
Sarah Ricker of the Maine Department of Education addresses a meeting on bullying at Telstar High School in Bethel on Thursday night. (A. Aloisio/The Bethel Citizen)