Safe Schools for Maine Students, Teachers and Staff
by Deb Landry
Last week, along with our sponsor, Senator Justin Chenette, a representative from MEA and the Maine Principals Assoc., I had the pleasure to testify to the ME Educational and Cultural Affairs committee on the need for a Safe School Climate Committee
In 2005-06, I served on the original committee which was part of the Governor's Children's Cabinet. This is where the subcommittee authored LD 564, Bullying and Harassment Prevention in Schools. The cabinet, Communities for Children and Youth and the Safe School Climate committee was demolished with the new administration.
We are looking at a committee that doesn't cost anything, but the time with people with a passion to make necessary improvements in our schools to make them safe and secure. A Committee with teachers, administrations, experts, parents, etc.
In today's world, we as adults, parents and community members owe it to our children to keep them safe and make Maine a place they want to live, stay and educate their own children. Teachers are now learning how to protect the classroom in case of a school shooting or attack. Preventive measures need to go beyond that and be proactive instead of reactive.
Testimony to the Maine Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs On an Act to Promote Safe Schools Through the
Creation of the Safe School Climate Council
Presented by Deb Landry
Executive Director of Crossroads Youth Center (CYC) On behalf of: The Unite Against Bullying ME Project
April 10, 2019
Good morning, my name is Deb Landry. I am the Executive Director of Crossroads, a 501c3 youth organization established in 1999 in Saco, and a children’s author specializing in character education. I am also one of the original committee members of the 2005 Safe School Climate Committee, authors of Maine’s Best Practices on Bullying and Harassment Prevention and more importantly, an advocate for Maine children, certified parenting coach, a mother of four and grandmother of three, who are all Maine residents.
Crossroads’ Unite Against Bullying ME Project is our safe schools, character education, bullying and harassment prevention educational program and we are associated with more than 1000 students and adults in the state of Maine alone. We also have chapters throughout the US in 41 states and in Canada, and are a volunteer-driven organization pledged to promoting safe schools. In Maine alone, we have averaged over 12,000 hours of community service annually for the past 5 years, mostly served in schools and youth programs.
On behalf of CYC, I appreciate this opportunity to speak before the committee today regarding the importance of school safety and the diverse types of safety issues school districts must address. As a parent who has experienced the after effects of my own child’s bullying in school, and from working with several parents of youth who have committed suicide as a result of being bullied, I take school safety very seriously. A week does not go by that I am consulted about the safety in our schools and how to deal with children being bullied.
My involvement escalated in 2005 in this very building when my 11 y/o son testified to the then Education and Cultural Committee, about his experience with bullying in his school. The result of that day was a committee being appointed by the governor and the beginning of LD 564. We worked diligently with school counselors, DOE staff, the Children’s Cabinet, Communities for Children and Youth, legislators, college professors, experts in the field, college students, civil rights attorneys and advocates to pass the first law and authored the Maine’s Best Practice in Bullying and Harassment Prevention found on Maine.gov. This law was revisited in 2012 and amended to include cyberbullying.
The shock and fear generated by school shootings in the US and other violent acts in schools have led to increasing safety concerns. School officials are intensifying their efforts and abilities to identify and prevent potential threats, and to respond to all threats quickly and safely. Preventing injury to our students is not only an ethical responsibility, it is also a legal obligation. Without question, children need to feel safe in order to be attentive in school and to be successful academically.
It is our responsibility as parents, adults, legislators and just good citizens to ensure that our schools remain safe and that children may learn without fear of harm. Therefore, this must be an ongoing commitment as technology and society changes.
Schools must address both internal and external threats and provide the guidelines to how everyone will remain safe. Safety should always come first. The one thing I have learned is bullying is a symptom of a much larger disease which is the lack of respect, self and mutual, and lack of teaching and practicing positive character behaviors.
Protecting our students means that we need to consider external factors, such as people and environment, and other disasters that come from outside of our school community bringing harm to our students, teachers, and administrators.
However, it is also necessary for schools to assess and implement solutions to internal threat factors such as school climate, bullying, student violence and other behavioral issues in order to promote school safety. This new committee’s responsibility would be to consider all threats that may endanger the people in our schools and have a school threat assessment program and a well-crafted, vetted and practiced plan to address such issues.
State and School policy and planning
The Maine law already provides school districts with a sample policy and law. We would like to see this expand to include the following by offering support to improve, and more importantly prevent, tragic circumstances.
· Bullying prevention and education;
· Suicide awareness prevention and crisis intervention;
· Student assistance programs;
· Comprehensive student services such as guidance, psychological services, social development, diagnostics and intervention services;
· Emergency preparedness planning and drills;
· Threat assessments;
· Weapons and terroristic threats relating to notification of the local police department;
· Annual requirements for assembling information required to assist local police and fire departments and immediate deployment of such information in the event of an emergency;
· Providing the schools with sample Emergency Plan to local police and fire department which includes emergency and nonemergency response
Implementing proactive security steps is critical for school districts, not merely from a risk management perspective, but because of a genuine care for maintaining schools as the safest environment for children to learn and grow.
Amidst the understandable sorrow in the aftermath of the recent school violence events, educational leaders, parents, and lawmakers must work together on solutions for a healthy and safe future. This begins with taking a clear look at what can be improved on and where we can assist schools through the development of this committee. With the recent case in Ellsworth, it will not be long before other parents and schools will be held accountable for tragic incidents. The only solution to this is to be proactive and set safety guidelines for prevention on the state level.
We then must review legislation and make necessary improvements with clarification, if necessary. The group BullyPolice.org and Stopbullying.gov reviews and grade state laws. Maine has consistently ranked as an A- since 2005.
Statistics from Stopbullying.gov
• 160,000 students stay home from school every day due to bullying. (NEA)
• In schools where there are anti-bullying or safe school climate programs (and used), bullying is reduced by 50%.
• Bullying was a factor in 2/3 of the 37 school shootings reviewed by the US Secret Service.
• 30% of students who reported they had been bullied said they had at times brought weapons to school.
• A bully is 6 times more likely to be incarcerated by the age of 24.
• A bully is 5 times more likely to have a serious criminal record when they grow up.
• Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.
• The average child has watched 8,000televised murders and100,000 acts of violence before finishing elementary school.
• According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety Health (NIOSH) (Sauter, et al.,1990), there is a loss of employment amounting to $19 billion and a drop-in productivity of $3 billion due to workplace bullying.
• Law enforcement costs related to bullying are enormous. Since 1999, the Office on Violence against Women (OVW) has spent $98 million in assistance to address campus sexual violence.
• Three students from the last two school shootings committed suicide in the last 3 weeks.
We need to plant the seed that all Maine Schools are safe places. The seeds of violence or bullying are not rooted in schools nor can they be solved only at school. This can only be addressed and solved if we are prepared, are using preventative measures, and understand learned behaviors. As I stated before, bullying is a cultural and behavioral issue. Solutions must be comprehensive, coordinated, collaborative, consistent and sustained to work.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you about the pressing issue of school safety. I appreciate any support you can grant to us to reinstate this program. We look forward to working with you throughout the process to develop a Safe School Climate Council.
copy of the original manual can be found on www.Maine.gov.