Ray Richardson’s initial reaction to cyberbullying was probably like that of many adults.

“I used to say to my kids, ‘Why don’t they just turn the damn computer off?’ ” said Richardson, a talk show host on WLOB radio and the father of four.

Then he got schooled.

“What we’re dealing with now has been escalated to the point of madness,” he said of what he learned about the constant harassment that’s made possible by text messages, Twitter and Facebook on cellphones.

Richardson has organized a community forum, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Westbrook Middle School cafeteria, where a panel of local leaders — including the police and the fire chief, an assistant district attorney and the high school’s substance abuse counselor — will offer various perspectives on the problem.

“I can’t sit by idly and watch another kid being mistreated,” said Richardson, who hopes the forum will be the first of many statewide. “I don’t know what else to do.”

Richardson felt compelled to act after hosting a series of on-air discussions about bullying, including a conversation in May with Tori Pabst, a Westbrook High School student whose story of being bullied went viral.

Richardson said he got more than 2,000 emails in response to that segment. Some came from parents who were disappointed by school officials, who were criticized for a lax response to a cry-for-help letter from Pabst.

Westbrook Superintendent Marc Gousse said the district has begun professional development specific to bullying and a review of its policies and procedures on the issue, including reporting and investigating incidents.

Richardson is emphatic that Thursday’s forum “is not a place to dump on the schools.”

After all, he said, that’s not where it starts. Richardson, who lives in Westbrook, blames “the breakdown of the community,” which is why he has asked its leaders to participate.

Assistant District Attorney Christine Thibeault, a juvenile prosecutor in Cumberland County, will discuss how laws have not caught up to technology, which complicates her job.

Westbrook Community Services Director Maria Dorn will share her thoughts on how parents should respond to finding out about their kids being bullied — or doing the bullying.

Also on the panel will be two Westbrook High School seniors. Aisha Errington is captain of the girls’ soccer team and a member of the school’s Reducing Sexism and Violence Program. Conner Richardson was class president for the past two years and is the organizer’s son.

Errington said a small group of students at the high school will speak up when they see bullying. She believes that as that group gets bigger, victims of bullying will feel more comfortable coming forward.

That’s one effect Ray Richardson hopes the forums will have. The other is to make parents more aware of the signs that their child is being bullied or bullying someone else. “While we may not be able to stop bullying, we can stand up to it,” he said.

As to whether it will make a difference, Errington said, “I think slowly, in time, it will.”

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]