GUILFORD, Maine — Escalating incidents of violence at Piscataquis Community Secondary School have caught the attention of parents and prompted action from the local Sheriff’s Department.
A group of seventh- and eighth-graders at the school formed a gang last fall and call themselves the Green Saints, SAD 4 Superintendent Paul Stearns said on Wednesday.
The most recent incident involving the group happened on Friday, he said.
“The triggering incident which has really set the school community in an uproar [was when an] eighth-grade student made a derogatory remark to another eighth-grade student in the hallway,” said Stearns. The student who took exception to the remark “put the other kid in a tight headlock. It was broken up immediately and they were hustled down to the office.”
The student who placed the other student in a headlock was handed a five-day suspension, Stearns said. One of the students was in the so-called Green Saints gang, but Stearns declined to say which student it was.
On Tuesday, several parents expressed concerns about school safety during the SAD 4 board of directors meeting. They didn’t want gang-related activity going on, Stearns said.
Between three and 12 students appeared to identify themselves as part of the gang, said Stearns. The kids wore green bandanas and clothing.
“As soon as [Principal Kevin Harrington] caught wind of it, he put a stop to it,” said Stearns. “They’re not just Boston Celtics fans.”
Stearns said the bandanas, chains and other gang-related apparel are against school policy. The gang then resorted to wearing green shoelaces.
“We ended that as well,” he said.
Some students at the school have taken action into their own hands in regards to the gang, said Stearns.
“Other students are getting involved and are taunting them,” he said. “We’ve even had some jokes played that have gotten other students in trouble. Other folks are stirring the pot, keeping things going and generally being entertained by disruption.”
Stearns said a number of consequences come from bullying. One member of the gang is close to expulsion.
“We have others in that [discipline] pipeline, if you will,” he said.
The school’s reach stretches into social media, as well, and students may face discipline for their online activities, Stearns said.
“Often the physical piece is accompanied by an Internet piece as well,” he said, adding that the most recent incident stirred discussion in the community because of a posting on Facebook. Those who “like” bullying incidents described on Facebook may face consequences.
“If you’re not involved [in the altercation] and go on social media or email and express your like of this type of behavior, you’re becoming involved,” said Stearns. “It’s just like the person who stands around and watches the fight and doesn’t do anything about it.
Stearns said that some in the gang who appeared to be followers “seem to have dispersed. They got the idea that this is not a good idea for me to be doing.”
A Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department deputy will be stationed inside the school for at least a couple of weeks, said Chief Deputy Bob Young. Investigator Allen Emerson started his first day at the school on Wednesday.
“He’s mainly there to do two things,” Young said. “To be a visual reminder that when there are violations of law, with this gang or anyone, we’re going to deal with it quickly and effectively. We also want to be able to jump on incidents quickly. By being there, as soon as something happens, he can be there and deal with it immediately.”
A school resource officer is something both Stearns and Young said they’d like to have, but finding the funding is a problem. No school in Piscataquis County has a school resource officer, said Young, but many of the town police departments work closely with their schools.
“It’s a great resource because they get to know [Emerson] and kids talk to him about all kinds of things,” said Young, adding that Emerson has experience in schools as he was a D.A.R.E. instructor for year.
Stearns said the school takes bullying and the safety of students seriously.
“What we will do is continue to work hard and do the right things for kids,” he said.