#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | Lewiston schools taking a closer look at bullying

LEWISTON — The School Committee on Monday agreed to expand its policy on bullying to possibly include restorative justice instead of some of the more severe punishments.

Consequences for violating the policy include suspension, expulsion and civil or criminal penalties.

Restorative justice aims to repair harm by shifting the focus of discipline to engage all parties, and sometimes the community, in a learning process.

“Know that the restorative piece means we’re committed to fixing this issue,” Superintendent Todd Finn said. “We will look at the most effective steps.”

He said shifting the mindset to prevention would result in a safer environment for students.

“I don’t ever want our kids to go home feeling a certain way because of their race, the language they speak or the sneakers they wear,” he said.

Committee member Megan Parks brought the issue to the panel because people in the community had asked for help, she said. A substitute teacher witnessed bullying in a classroom but didn’t know how to respond, Parks said.

Finn said the policy could be expanded to include professional development for substitute teachers and bus drivers, among others who interact with students.

Parks said parents had asked her whether they could be notified before an investigation began if their child were involved in a bullying incident. She also asked that the Policy Committee update the definitions of bullying.

Much of the bullying is done over social media and texting, Finn said.

“Cyberbullying from anywhere used to bully a student is considered bullying,” he said. “Teasing, insulting or embarrassing is not defined as bullying unless it has the harmful effect listed in law, but those need to be addressed.”

The Maine Legislature passed an anti-bullying law in 2012 that requires all public schools to have a policy against bullying and harassment, including cyberbullying, that affects students at school.

Lewiston High School Principal Jake Langlais said he was aware of a high number of students “not treating others so well on weekends and weeknights. It’s often two-way, kids being really, really mean to each other.”

He said he would like to see a “larger conversation” in the community.

“Our kids are good kids, but they’re still learning,” he said.

Finn said he didn’t have all of the answers, “but I know where to find them and I promise you I will.”

Lewiston last updated bullying policy in 2016.

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