Data shows hundreds of students bullied in Maine each year

Data from the Maine Department of Education shows hundreds of students are bullied each year in Maine schools. (WGME)

STATEWIDE (WGME) -- Data from the Maine Department of Education shows hundreds of students are bullied each year in Maine schools.

According to that data, there were nearly 700 substantiated incidents of bullying in the 2016-2017 school year. Of those, 350 were classified as verbal, 188 were a physical act or gesture, 85 were cyber bullying, 44 were electronic expression, 19 were written and 12 were retaliation.

The department told us we can't compare those numbers to previous years because before 2016 the way individual districts defined bullying varied, causing "inconsistencies" in the data.

We did look at statistics on the national level. Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center indicates the CDC shows the number of students reporting bullying has dropped.

"For a while in 2006 it was really steadily at one in every three students that were reporting experiencing bullying," says coordinator Bailey Lindgren, "Since then it has dropped to one in four and now it's one in five, so it went from about 30% to about 20%. There's still one in five which is a big number of kids that are reporting experiencing bullying, and the way that they're experiencing it looks a little bit different than it did maybe 10 years ago."

The Maine Department of Education says it's taking part in a national study to evaluate the effectiveness of the state's anti-bullying law. They are also going to have an online survey for schools this spring and next spring. In March we requested an on-camera interview with someone at the department of education to talk about bullying, but were told "The department is not available for interviews."

When a child is bullied, it can make them feel alone, even afraid to go to school. Sometimes parents don't know how to help or make sure the bullying is handled properly.

"I don't want my son to come home crying and not want to eat and go up and sit in his room," says parent Patrick Moore.

Moore says his family is still struggling with a bullying incident that impacted his son, a Gorham middle school student, back in March.

"My son is telling me he got pushed from behind," says Moore, "And he got pushed in the lockers, turned around, I guess there was words, and I guess my son got hit in the head and then my son retaliated."

Moore says he warned the school about the other student before that incident.

"I got a phone call by my son from the principal's phone and I thought it was the principal calling me to tell me about the investigation," says Moore, "But it ended up being my son suspended for getting in a fight."

Moore says he was told there was surveillance video of the encounter, but he couldn't see it immediately.

"I was extremely, extremely upset," says Moore.

According to the Maine Department of Education, parents do have the right to see surveillance video involving their child because it's part of their educational record, but the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA requires the faces of other students be blurred out to protect their privacy.

"It takes time, it can take multiple days, could take a week or so," says Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry.

Superintendent Perry told us she cannot talk about any specific case, but agreed to share details about the district's bullying policies.

"They're pretty complex and they're pretty strict in how it is that we handle any allegation of bullying in Gorham schools," Perry says.

When there's an allegation of bullying, Perry says a report is filed and an investigation begins.

"The administrator in charge really has to first determine whether or not the allegations are substantiated and then once it is, once that determination is made, what are the natural consequences assigned to that," Perry says, "And then once they make those determinations they have to communicate those to the parent or guardian of both the alleged bully and the alleged target."

Perry says the district as a whole takes bullying very seriously.

"I can tell you that I feel secure that we have trained every staff member in how to deal with bullying, that we have the policies and procedures in place to address bullying and to ensure that appropriate investigations are occurring for any alleged report of bullying," says Perry.

Moore says he did end up viewing the surveillance video of his son's encounter and still feels his son should not have been suspended. he says he doesn't think bullying is being fully addressed in Gorham schools.

"Not only for my son, but I hear it from several other parents," says Moore, "They're sick and tired of it.

Moore shared messages from other parents and even former students supporting him. One says "I went through this with my daughter." Another says, "As the father of someone that was bullied at GMS, this hits a really sore area for me. It is a serious issue and many don't understand the psychological implications of the ones who were bullied. It can stay with you for life." Another said "As a community we should all be concerned." One reads "I am livid about what's going on and so glad you have spoken out." One former student even said she dropped out of school because the bullying was so bad.

"I would encourage any parent that has concerns to please reach out," says Perry, "I'm always willing to have conversations with folks about that."

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