AUGUSTA, Maine — Keeping all exterior doors to schools locked during the school day and training staff for a crisis were among the 62 suggestions for improving safety in schools listed in reports presented by the education commissioner to the state Legislature’s education and cultural affairs committee on Wednesday.
The reports were created by Safe Havens International and PDT Architects, consultant groups paid $19,894 and $18,500 respectively to assess safety in schools across Maine. The Department of Education hired the groups after the Legislature passed a resolve directing the Department of Education to investigate school safety practices last summer. The Department of Education was asked to gather information on whether Maine schools would be prepared in the event of an emergency and to develop recommendations for improving security.
The reports said that the Maine schools visited for this assessment have an inviting and positive culture, but there were lots of areas that could be improved. It urged the Department of Education to create a school safety center that would be a resource for individual school districts to improve safety.
“School facilities, especially older schools, are not up to standards … with regard to locking doors,” education commissioner Jim Rier told the committee on Wednesday.
Rier said that though a facilities upgrade was probably necessary at some schools, “it’s important to focus on planning, training and staff readiness … not just equipment.”
Members of the committee asked questions about what the cost of improving facilities would be and what could be done at little or no cost.
Sen. Brian Langley suggested a safety self-assessment tool that could be made available to schools.
Rep. Brian Hubbell pointed out that some Maine schools have different safety needs than others.
“Islesford has 11 kids in a town that doesn’t have any locked doors on the whole island,” he said.
Rier agreed that not every school should be required to meet the same standards.
The Department of Education will consider the reports, as well as the questions raised by the lawmakers, and return to the education and cultural affairs committee later in this legislative session. No action will be taken immediately in response to these reports.
Only an abbreviated version of the reports has been made available to the public because they contain highly sensitive, life-saving information, according to a statement from the Department of Education. The summary of the reports was made available publicly on Thursday.