June 21, 2018
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Schools reviewing security statewide after Newtown

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

Public schools in Maine are reviewing their security in response to the massacre at a Connecticut school last month.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen ordered all state schools to review their security in a memo he issued immediately after the killings in Newtown, Conn., department spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Wednesday.

Bowen, Connerty-Marin said, attended a scheduled meeting of the state’s interagency working group on school preparedness a week after the horror of Newtown, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a grade school there on Dec. 14.

Bowen expects a list of security recommendations from the working group, which meets monthly, within a month or two. No report date has been set, Connerty-Marin said.

“People should feel comfortable that their schools and communities are on this in general,” Connerty-Marin said of the security review, “but in a horrible situation like this, we look again to see what else we can do to improve security.”

The interagency group consists of state superintendents, Maine Emergency Management Agency officials, police and other emergency service personnel. It is charged with helping ensure school safety, Connerty-Marin said.

Orono High School Principal Jim Chasse said he and other school officials are reviewing the school’s security at the behest of RSU 26 school board leaders. RSU 26 serves Glenburn, Orono and Veazie.

In Lincoln, Police Chief William Lawrence toured Northern Penobscot Tech-Region III on Dec. 21 at the request of school Director Mary Hawkes.

Hawkes said she thinks her school is secure, but wants to be sure.

“I feel safe, personally, in this facility,” Hawkes said. “However, I don’t think you can ever be too safe so I would like to implement any additional safety measures to ensure that we have reached as high a degree of safety as we can with the resources we have available.”

Lawrence gave Hawkes several recommendations during his two- or three-hour review. School officials expect to implement the recommendations within two weeks. They want Lawrence to train the staff on mass-casualty and violence responses, she said.

So the school’s director is working to tighten security after Lawrence’s tour of the school last month, she said.

“They do have a security system in place that is very good,” Lawrence said. “They just need to enhance that a bit further. I really think they need a PowerPoint presentation and to actually run through [evacuation and safety] drills, and once we complete that, we will be in really good shape.”

“These are easy fixes, very easy fixes,” he added. “They are doing the right things. We are just going to enhance what they are doing.”

RSU 67 Superintendent Denise Hamlin said her school system, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawankeag, conducted its own review within days of Newtown. Officials are installing more secure doors and making other improvements at their three schools, a process that began before the incident, Hamlin said.

Connerty-Marin said statewide reviews of school procedures are usually productive.

“It could be that [state public schools] are doing the right things, but [Bowen] wants to see if there are some areas where [security] improvements can be made,” Connerty-Marin said.

One of the challenges state educators face, Connerty-Marin said, is “striking a balance between creating a fortress and maintaining a learning environment” on limited funding.

But after Newtown, Chasse said, educators are certainly well-motivated.

“I think every school in the country did a review after what happened in Connecticut,” Chasse said.

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