Falmouth School Board adopts new bullying, student restraint policies

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FALMOUTH — At a special meeting Tuesday night, the School Board unanimously adopted new policies on bullying, child restraint and middle school athletics.

“I’m surprised by how many editions (of policies) we’ve gone through. We’ve tackled a lot of good stuff,” outgoing board member Chris Murry Jr. said. “Policy is the foundation of where the board gets its authority and what allows us to govern. This is the first time, at least in the last couple decades, that we’ve really followed through with good policy and gone in in that manner.”

The bullying and restraint policies are handed down and required by the Department of Education. The language in each of the policies was written by the Maine School Management Association, based on state legislation.

The new policy governing bullying contains several notable changes, including giving more attention to cyberbullying. The new policy also creates common investigation and reporting forms, discipline records, a defined intervention process and new administrative procedures.

The physical restraint policies are the culmination of years of work in the Legislature after a series in The Forecaster revealed physical restraint of students in Maine schools was being used frequently, in some cases violating existing policy.

The resulting changes adopted by the board Tuesday, are a compromise after initial proposed policies regarding restraint were seen as too restrictive on teachers and staff.

Previously, school workers were banned from physically escorting students. The new policy passed by the Legislature allows for brief physical restriction, and in specific circumstances, allows restraint and seclusion of students.

Teachers and staff can now also place a hand on a student’s back to guide them out of a situation were they could harm themselves or others.

Superintendent of Schools Barbara Powers said the compromise on the policy is welcomed and now enables staff to act more quickly using gentle restraint.

The most significant change to the middle school athletic policy is the institution of a “no-cut” policy.

Murry said the policy doesn’t change previous practices, only solidifies them.

“Now, if more kids want to play than there are teams available, we can make that happen so they can play,” he said, noting that the policy did not come about as a result of issues with students being cut from teams.

Essentially, the new policy gives the board the authority, if it’s warranted, to accommodate larger or additional teams and hire additional paid coaches.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.