The Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit Board of Directors agreed to form an ad hoc committee to develop a charge for a standing subcommittee on bullying during its meeting at Chelsea Elementary School on Thursday, Feb. 8.
The action comes as Whitefield’s representatives to the board continue to express concerns about a lack of accountability from administrators on bullying at Whitefield Elementary School, which has caused a furor among parents and local residents.
Board members called for definitive action on the issue. “We should know what’s going on in our schools,” said Whitefield board member Tara DeLisle.
The ad hoc committee will report to the board during its meeting at Chelsea Elementary on March 8, at which time the board could formally create the bullying subcommittee.
Board Chair Jerry Nault, of Windsor, will appoint the ad hoc committee. Nault was absent from the Thursday meeting.
Board member Russell Gates, of Somerville, said he experienced bullying and abuse in school.
Gates advocated for the creation of a bullying subcommittee and said the board’s policies allow it to “establish such standing committees as it deems necessary to facilitate school governance and addressing ongoing school unit needs.”
In recent weeks, reports of bullying and abuse have come to the surface, causing shock waves throughout the community. Board members said they did not know about the reports until recently.
“By establishing a committee to monitor matters of abuse and bullying, and to identify, refer, and record cases of abuse, exploitation, violence, discrimination, and bullying to the appropriate entities would make the RSU 12 procedures a model for the state,” Gates said.
Gates itemized reasons for the subcommittee. He said it would eliminate “a public misconception that the school board is shirking its duties when it comes to bullying.”
He admitted that, in some instances, the RSU 12 guidelines for dealing with bullying have not resolved the issue. “This gives the misconception that the school board is not acting in the best interests of the students,” he said.
Gates said the subcommittee “could ensure that instances of abuse are monitored.” He said, “Every issue would automatically get reported to all points in the chain of command at the time of the initial reporting.”
If complaints to the principal do not result in a resolution, parents could appeal to the superintendent and finally to the subcommittee, he said.
“If the complaint is not resolved, then the committee may request that the board exercise its right to hold a student discipline hearing,” he said.
Gates said the subcommittee could look to identify trends and may invite individuals to participate in an advisory capacity.
Board member Keith Marple, of Whitefield, has been outspoken on the issue and has questioned whether Whitefield should withdraw from the district.
Marple criticized the omission of public comments about bullying from the minutes of a recent board meeting.
Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit Superintendent Howie Tuttle said he would add the comments, and the board voted to table approval of the minutes until its next meeting.
The agenda for Thursday’s meeting included a first reading of several policies, procedures, and forms on bullying and cyberbullying prevention, reporting, and remediation in compliance with Maine Department of Education regulations.
The proposed policies met with sharp criticism from board member Richard DeVries, of Westport Island, who called them a “paper nightmare.”
“I don’t see how they’re going to solve the problem,” he said.
DeVries called for definitive action. “All of this is garbage,” he said. “We need to deal with the bullying instead of the papers.”
Board member Chris Johnson, of Somerville, said the state requires the policies and procedures. “They are required by law,” he said. However, he agreed that the policies by themselves are not sufficient.
Whitefield board members expressed support for adjusting the policies to better suit the local situation, including knowledge of bullying and cyberbullying reports, and to avoid leaving the board in the dark in the future.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article online and in the Feb. 15 print edition incorrectly reported the board’s action. The board agreed to form an ad hoc committee to develop the charge for a standing subcommittee on bullying. It did not agree to form the bullying subcommittee. The Lincoln County News regrets the error.)