The Westbrook School Committee policy team Monday will discuss banning cell phone use for all students at the middle school.

The move comes in the wake of a March fight between two eighth-grade girls at recess. School officials said a disagreement was fueled on social media and videos of the physical fight appeared online as well.

Westbrook Middle School serves grades 5-8. As of now, students in grades 7-8 may have their phones on them while at school but are asked to limit their use to the start or end of the day. Students in grades 5-6 are not allowed to have their phones on them at all. There are similar restrictions at middle schools in Windham, South Portland and Portland.

The policy team is considering extending the cell phone rules for grades 5-6 to grades 7-8 as well.


Principal Laurie Wood told the American Journal in March that cell phones are often misused at school, especially to connect to social media. Staff is aware of student-frequented chat rooms on social media platforms that have racist and bigoted content. There also have been issues of students using their phones to film others at school, then they upload the video and use it for online bullying, she said.

Wood pointed out this week, however, that the problem is not new, even though it was brought to a head by the recess fight. While she does not have specific data about cell phone misuse and incidents resulting from it at the school, she cited general data that includes that. The data has been shared with parents and the School Committee.


Students at the middle school have broken school rules around laptops 50 times from 2021-22. Pre-pandemic, there were about 30 infractions per year. Cell phone infractions were similar, with 53 in 2021-2022, and 32 pre-pandemic.

Overall disruptive behavior has stayed stable, however, with 188 incidents in 2017-2018, 183 in the following school year, and 196 from 2021 to now. Harassment or bullying issues number 80 this year, matching 2019-2020, pre-remote learning numbers. Other infringements like threatening or spreading rumors are similarly stagnant.

There have been 82 incidents of physical contact, including fights, since 2020, far lower than 179 from 2019-2020, 201 the year before, and 175 from 2017 to 2018.

“The data we have is clear we are not in terribly bad shape,” Wood said. “We are not where we want to be. Ideally, we have no incidents, but we are not in a worse position than before.”

Student responses to annual surveys are in line with the school’s data. In 2017, about 7% percent of students reported being bullied every day. That number stayed roughly the same until 2020, with 4% of students saying they are bullied daily.

In 2017, 38% of students said they are never bullied and that number rose to 45% in 2020. Likewise, the number of students who may not have been bullied themselves but see it happen on a daily basis dropped from 14% in 2017 to 7.7% in 2020.


Since the recess fight in March, the middle school has taken a number of steps. It temporarily suspended outdoor recess for the grade level of those involved in the fight. More teachers were made available to supervise at recesses and lunchtimes.

“We have not had any other incidents. We met with individuals, all grades, and reminded them about appropriate recess behavior, and we’ve worked with students,” Wood said Monday.

School officials also have met with parents who were upset about the recess fight as well. Wood made herself available every morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. to go over their concerns.  Being booked for the fall are seminars run by Michael J. Chase from the Kindness Center, which promotes emotional wellness and discourages bullying among students.

Superintendent Peter Lancia said he is proud of how the school has handled the issues.

“Laurie and the middle school staff have done an outstanding job … with behavioral and social expectations, and managing when kids make mistakes, which they do,” Lancia said.

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