Despite the recent spate of school violence, schools are generally safe places for children to spend their days. Still, schools and communities should have plans in place to deal with crises, whether they entail violence, disease or natural disasters. In Maine, schools are required to have such plans, but nearly half do not. Merely hoping something bad does not happen is not acceptable. Putting together a comprehensive plan for dealing with a crisis and hoping to never use it is.
According to the Maine Department of Education, 40 percent of the state’s 177 school districts do not have a written crisis plan as required by state law. The districts are required to say they have a plan, but don’t have to share it with the department. The non-compliant districts haven’t met this minimum standard. Most of the districts that don’t have plans are small, according to the department.
The problem, as Rep. Jacqueline Norton, co-chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, points out is one of enforcement. But, the Bangor Democrat says, school districts shouldn’t be punished for non-compliance, by withholding state funds, for example. They instead should be helped.
The department is already doing this. It has held conferences on school safety and has provided districts with model plans and a questionnaire from the Maine Emergency Management Agency that asks about disaster plans. As a minimum, districts without plans should adopt these models and then work to customize them.
In recent weeks, armed men have taken hostages at schools in Colorado and Pennsylvania, killing six students. A principal was shot and killed in Wisconsin. These rare, but horrific, events have focused attention on school security. Across the country, schools are adding security cameras, armed guards and there is even talk of arming teachers.
Such extreme steps likely aren’t needed in Maine, but schools must ensure they are prepared to deal with disasters, natural or man-made. An important piece of any plan is communication. Schools must ensure they have a system to alert and update parents of any emergency.
Another part of the plan is testing. After writing a plan, it should be tested to look for weaknesses that can be corrected before a real disaster happens.
No one wants to plan for a tragedy, but unfortunately there is growing evidence that such planning is necessary. Maine schools should be prepared.