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School officials push for a new bill they say would help protect them against growing harassment

Teachers and school officials urged legislators Friday to pass a new bill that they say would help protect them from harassment in the face of increasing intimidation from parents and community members.

The legislation would include school board members, teachers and administrators as public servants in the state's criminal codes. Sponsors say that would ensure school staff are protected under rules forbidding interference, violence or intimidation against public servants performing government duties.

On Friday, several school officials said the additional protections were needed. Many described frequent anger and harassment from community members over issues including masks, vaccines and racial equity initiatives.

"I now live with a constant stress of potential harm, and near-daily harassment from parents who believe they can do my job better than me," said Bonny Eagle Middle School Principal Ben Harris. "I have watched as teachers who were once amazing at their craft have become robotic practitioners."

Several officials with Cumberland's MSAD 51, including Superintendent Jeffrey Porter, described months of frequent harassment and threats from one parent over racial equity work in the district. Porter said that despite dealing with hateful messages, social media posts and visits from the parent to his home, he was told he had little protection under the law.

"I did not meet the definition of a public servant under the statute," Porter said. "In other words, because of my occupation, the rights afforded by law to others do not apply to me, or any of my colleagues. Any school administrators, teachers, or school board members."

No one testified against the bill, but several Republican legislators questioned the need for it, when other criminal statutes already deal with such cases.