DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A child with Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism, had his arm broken in April when it was twisted behind his back in an act of violence on the playground.
Another child, the victim of two bullies, came home bloodied and bruised and was so distraught that he wanted to kill himself before he went back to school.
Still another child was choked so hard in April on the playground that it bruised the muscles in his neck which prompted the parents to file assault charges against the child who attacked their son.
These were examples some parents provided Wednesday night about the abuse that they say their children have endured at the hands of other children at school.
The examples were offered during a public forum on bullying that was sponsored by the SAD 68 school board after Brocke Robinson of Dover-Foxcroft complained about the school’s response to the choking incident involving his son. Robinson was upset that the school only suspended the bully for two days and was going to allow him back into his son’s class.
Bullying in SAD 68 is no different from bullying in other schools in Maine and across the nation, school officials said Wednesday night. National statistics show that 80 percent of pupils in grades four through eight report being victims of bullying.
“We’re not perfect, and we can certainly improve on what we do,” SAD 68 Superintendent Alan Smith said Wednesday. “I don’t like it [bullying]. I hate it. I have obviously a deep passion to eliminate it. I probably won’t be able to eliminate it, but we can certainly do things differently and better to eliminate some of the things that are taking place.”
Several programs are in the works in the district, Smith said. They include surveys on bullying that pupils, parents and staff will be asked to fill out; a bullying training program for staff that will be conducted by the Maine Education Association; and a school behavioral intervention program that will begin on May 25.
The district’s policy on bullying will be reviewed on May 18 and the handbook will be reviewed and adjusted over the summer to include a protocol to be followed for bullying incidents, Smith said. In addition, the Civil Rights Team will be resurrected; the school will make use of school resource officers; guidance will be ex-tended to all grades next year despite the elimination of a counseling position; Womancare, a local organization working to eliminate domestic violence, will give presentations on cyberbullying; and work will continue on the protocol for school bus conduct.
“We can do a better job,” Smith said.
Parent Jayme Chase of Dover-Foxcroft, who said her son had been bloodied and bruised by bullies, credited teachers for helping her son stand up for himself in a positive way. She also praised the fifth-grade team of teachers who have taken bullying seriously. Her son did not want to go to school because of the bullying, but the team’s efforts now make him look forward to school, she said.
“A bully is a bully, no matter what, there’s no sugar coating it and the victim has to deal with it for the rest of their lives probably, but as parents if we get involved, if we take it seriously, then the children take it seriously too,” Chase said. “I think everything starts in the home, whether the child is a victim or the child is a bully.”
Parent Sheri Grant of Dover-Foxcroft, who also said her son was bullied, said she was willing to work to help the district improve the atmosphere at the school.
“If you go home at night and your husband or wife is constantly berating you or telling you how horrible you are or is hitting you on purpose, pushing you around, are you going to want to go home over and over each night or are you going to be able to focus on your family and be kind to them?” she asked. “Probably not.” Likewise, a child in school who walks down the hall and has his books purposely knocked from his hands or is told he or she can’t play in a game with other children, won’t likely be able to focus on schoolwork, she said.
It is urgent that changes be made to prevent a Columbine in Maine, according to Robinson, who said his son was choked in April and who gave a PowerPoint presentation Wednesday on bullying.
Those changes are under way, Smith said.
“We are headed in the right direction,” the superintendent said.