Law enforcement presence, problem students leaving halts gang problem at Guilford high school, says superintendent
GUILFORD, Maine — The daily presence of a sheriff’s department investigator and attrition has halted problems caused by a gang of students at Piscataquis Community Secondary School, according to SAD 4 Superintendent Paul Stearns.
Incidents of violence had occurred since the beginning of the school year perpetrated by a group of mostly eighth graders calling themselves the Green Saints, Stearns confirmed earlier this month. One boy placing another boy into a headlock on March 8 led to a five-day suspension and a group of parents confronting the school board about the incidents.
On March 12, parents met with the school board to talk about issues they had been hearing about related to a gang. Soon after, Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Allen Emerson was temporarily placed at the school. Since then, there have been no incidents involving the group, who typically wore green and hung out together at lunch.
Part of the reason for the change, Stearns said Wednesday, was good fortune.
Parents of one of the alleged ringleaders of the Green Saints intervened and he is now home schooled, said Stearns. Two other students who attended the school for less than a month and were allegedly part of the group have moved away. No students were expelled, he said.
“It’s kind of been nipped in the bud,” said Emerson. “There’s been nothing major since I’ve been here.”
Stearns said an assembly was held on March 14 for grades 7-12 to address what had been happening in the school, which has 325 students.
“We addressed the fact to everybody that anybody related to any gang-like behavior or wearing of colors would not be allowed at the school,” Stearns said. He added that it didn’t have to be a gang, but a ball team or after school group who intended to inflict harm on people or were up to no good would also not be tolerated.
Some students had been taunting and making fun of the gang. That also wasn’t tolerated, said Stearns.
“I explained how important it was for them not to be doing that. Let bygones be bygones,” he said.
School board member Blaire Fagan, who has two kids in the school, said there have not been any incidents involving a gang in the past few weeks.
“Every day I ask my kids if there’s anything going on. Every day it’s the same answer — ‘everything’s quiet,’” she said.
Piscataquis Sports Boosters President Cindy Hoak, whose son is a sophomore, agreed.
“We do have a sheriff’s officer there every day. I think that’s settling things down,” said Hoak. “It’s made some of the kids who were scared feel safe.”
Stearns said the school has worked closely with the sheriff’s department, but has never before had a school resource officer. He said he’d like the school to have one as there is no assistant principal, but it would be financially difficult to make it happen.
“[Emerson] has been out and about and visible. He’s having lunch with the kids and is in the lobby in the mornings and afternoons. I think it’s been good,” said Stearns. “I think it’s been positive for us to have a calming influence.”
Emerson said he’s dealt with minor issues, including a runaway child. He’s been able to quell problems quickly when they do arise.
“There’s stuff we never used to get called for, but now that someone’s here, [the school will] call,” said Emerson. “They set me up with an office and the door’s open. The kids know if they have an issue, they can come in and talk.”
Emerson was scheduled to be at the school only through Friday. The sheriff’s department is still discussing on whether Emerson’s stay will be extended.
“We’re just trying to make sure there’s enough of a reason for him to be there, because we have to run short on the other end of things,” Chief Deputy Bob Young said Thursday. “We’ll know a little bit later, but we’re still evaluating that.”
Stearns said there will be a student-led forum in the gym on April 4 at 5:30 p.m., where members of the civil rights team, key club and peer counselors will run a forum for students, parents, faculty, school board members and anyone with an interest in the school can meet and talk about the school.
“We’ll have tables set up with mixed groups at every table,” said Stearns. “We’re going to look at three things: What do we have going for us, what’s not so good and what are some solutions to make this a better place?
“Personally, I think having that student-led is critical. The school is the students,” he said. “We need to guide them and assist them to make sure it’s a good place.”