April 07, 2020

Officials in Maine revisit school safety

AUGUSTA – In the wake of recent horrific school shootings in other parts of the country, school superintendents and police officials across the state have been advised to review their safety and crisis management plans.

Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday revealed that he had instructed the various state departments dealing with law enforcement, education and emergency management to be prepared to coordinate their efforts to make sure the state’s school buildings are safe and secure. He said that while there were no known threats to schools, officials should revisit, evaluate and update their plans and procedures.

“In the past two weeks there have been several unrelated incidents in schools across the country. Strangers have entered schools and terrorized children, and in some cases it has ended with the most tragic circumstances. In light of those events, I have asked law enforcement and schools to work together to review their safety plans,” Baldacci said in a statement Tuesday.

The governor said he spoke with the heads of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, Maine State Police, and departments of education and public safety Monday night after learning of the shooting of a dozen girls in Nickel Mines, Pa. Five of the girls died in the slaughter. The man who shot them took his own life.

“I have asked a number of agencies in the state to coordinate their efforts and to work with superintendents, sheriffs, local schools and local police to ensure that every school in Maine has safety procedures and emergency protocols in place,” Baldacci said in his statement Tuesday. “It goes without saying, we must do everything in our power in Maine to keep our children safe.”

Also on Tuesday, Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron sent a message to each school superintendent advising them of Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security recommendations. Gendron reminded schools to review their safety procedures and consider implementing short-term protective measures to secure the schools. Many of the procedures were discussed with superintendents during a June meeting in Bar Harbor

Gendron advised them to review their crisis plans with the school staff, conduct exercises, consider limiting visitors and entry points to schools, and develop emergency communication procedures. She also asked them to consider long-term protective measures such as a closed campus, secure locks for all doors and windows, and establishment of safety areas within individual schools.

“As this month opens, we are faced with acts of school violence in other states that remind us yet again of how important our task is to remain vigilant and committed to reviewing and practicing all of the components of our individual school crisis management plans,” Gendron said in the letter.

The killing of the girls at West Nickel Mines Amish School was preceded by a shooting last week in Bailey, Colo., where a man took several high school girls as hostages, shot one to death and wounded several of her classmates before killing himself. Also last month, in Montreal, a man entered Dawson College and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing one woman and wounding 19 others. He was killed at the scene by police.

Bruce Mailloux, assistant superintendent of schools for SAD 34 in Belfast, said emergency procedures topped the agenda of the first staff meeting of the school year. He said administrators updated their procedures and policies and evacuation plans at that time, but they plan to review their policies again at their next meeting.

“We are acutely aware of it,” Mailloux said of school safety. “It’s pretty much a standard thing, the first thing we do at the beginning of the school year. The first agenda every year is always a review of our lockdown drills, lockdown procedures and fire drills.”

Mailloux said the district has been “very diligent” about securing access to the elementary schools but admitted that the high school posed some problems. He said the high school staff constantly reminds students of the drills and emergency procedures.

“The high school, simply because of the age of the building and the number of doors we have, is a bit easier to gain access,” he said. “But you have to remember we have an older group of students there, and they are aware of the procedures and what they have to do.”

At Bangor High School the school department has retained the services of two private security guards from Seaboard Security of Brewer. The guards are stationed outside the building during schools hours and are charged with keeping watch on the comings and goings of the public and students, according to principal Norris Nickerson. The high school also has five hall monitors to keep track of activities inside the building. All doors to the high school are locked except for the entrance near the main office.

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