Opinion

Resources available for families dealing with school bullying

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Bullying in schools can have severe impacts on students and their families. Families should know that they have legal rights when it comes to bullying and there are resources in our community that families can reach out to for help. Here is some information for families.

Public schools in Maine are required to make sure that their students are able to learn in a reasonably safe environment. This includes having policies and procedures in place to prevent and protect students from things like bullying, harassment, discrimination and other similarly offensive or violent behavior.

Steps parents can take if their child is being bullied:

1. Read the school’s policies on conduct/discipline on the school’s website or at the front office.

2. Write a letter to the school. Put in writing what happened even if the school already knows. Demand an immediate and formal investigation into the misconduct. Keep a copy of what you give to the school.

3. Request the school put a safety plan in place to protect the child during the investigation. A safety plan can include changing buses, classes or seating assignments, extra monitoring, and other steps.

4. Give the school any information you feel would be helpful in the investigation. Include names of witnesses, copies of papers, photos, text messages, etc.

5. Parents can check in with the school on the investigation and what the next steps are.

After the school has completed its investigation, the parent should be notified of the results. The parent may request a specific outcome, but it is the school that decides the level of punishment, if any. If a parent disagrees, the parent has a right to appeal (try to change) the decision. The time to do this is very short (usually only a few days). Parents can ask the school for a copy of its procedures on how to appeal.

You may have other rights or actions available to you based on the facts of your case, including requesting a protection order from the court or a making a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. You also have the right to hire an attorney to give you some advice or represent you.

Some additional sources of information that may be helpful include: the Maine Dept. of Education Bullying Prevention www.maine.gov/doe/schools/safeschools/bullying and KidsLegal has a website with a large amount of information about school law at www.kidslegal.org.

If you need help finding a lawyer in your area you can call the Maine State Bar Association’s attorney referral service at 800-860-1460 or check your local phonebook.

If you or your child are the victim of sexual assault/harassment or domestic violence you can contact your local sexual assault agency helpline at 800-871-7741 or domestic violence agency helpline at 866-834-HELP.

Monahan is an attorney at Pine Tree Legal Assistance in their Bangor office. Pine Tree is Maine’s oldest and largest statewide civil legal aid provider. Pine Tree provides free civil legal assistance in cases where legal help can make a difference in one’s ability to meet one’s basic human needs or in enforcing basic human rights, including access to housing, food, income, safety, education and healthcare. KIDS LEGAL is a state-wide unit within Pine Tree that focuses on the needs of low-income children and youth in Maine.

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