Lisbon looking to team up on bullies

LISBON – The Lisbon school board is considering hosting a public forum to seek input on its anti-bullying policy and whether they think a problem exists in the schools.

Board member Marti Grimm said they decided to take this approach following a recent educational study committee meeting, which was attended by the mother of a fifth-grade student. The woman was one of two mothers who previously questioned whether the administration had taken appropriate steps to protect their sons from a classmate who they say threatened to kill them and their families.

Speaking at Monday’s board meeting, Grimm said the committee decided the best approach might be to hold a series of public meetings to gather input, similar to the fact-finding forums the board hosted last year before implementing a drug-testing policy.

She said these forums might be a useful way to determine whether parents and students believe a bullying problem exists, if the current policy is effective in addressing the issue, and whether the plan needs amended. When to schedule the public forums, which might include guest speakers, will be decided at the board’s Feb. 12 meeting.

Board member Gene Gallo said involving the community made sense. “I think the process we followed with drug testing worked well,” he said.

Grimm hopes students would also attend. “This is to get the community involved so adults can hear what the kids are saying,” she said, adding the forum may delve into related topics.

Superintendent Don Thompson said he recently made a safety survey available to parents that may prove helpful in determining the approach they take. He has received 70 responses so far.

“We’ve heard these concerns but now we want to hear as much from the community as possible,” he said.

Board member Jeff Elliott said the most difficult task ahead of them may be simply defining what constitutes bullying.

“Sometimes you look at someone sideways and they think it’s bullying,” he said. “I think we need a good definition of bullying … before we set up some policies.”

“You know, Jeff, you’re absolutely right, and I think I’ll put you in charge of coming up with a definition,” said board President Jim Smith, which elicited laughter from his fellow board members and the audience.

Smith conceded it is very difficult for people of different ages, life experience and gender to agree on a definition of bullying. “What is bullying to one person is not bullying to another,” he said.

Grimm said anything they do to address the issue should include an educational component.