-- A sign at the main entrance of Asa Adams Elementary School in Orono advises that face coverings are required in the building. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

At least two more Maine schools have closed this week due to threats to students’ safety.

In Orono, RSU 26 administrators opted to close all school buildings Wednesday after a threat was discovered written on a stall in the girls’ bathroom across from the Orono Middle/High School cafeteria, Superintendent Meredith Higgins said in a letter to parents Wednesday.

The threat was “similar in nature” to those received at other schools lately, she said.

Middle and high school students learned remotely on Wednesday while students at Asa C. Adams Elementary School had no classes. After school events, including athletic activities, were canceled, and no school staff were at the school buildings.

In Calais, the building that houses the middle and high schools is closed Thursday due to a threat, Calais School Department Superintendent Ronald Jenkins said.

Parents were calling and texting the school’s principal early Thursday morning with screenshots of what looked like a threat specifically against the middle and high school, Jenkins said.

Buses were preparing to pick up students and, in some cases, were already on the road, Jenkins said. But, “it was decided that it was best to err on the side of extreme caution” in closing school for the day, he said.

The screenshots were similar to screenshots that have led other schools to close, Jenkins said. School is expected to resume Friday.

“We believe that our greatest concern is with the safety of our students and staff and believe that with the information we had the correct decision was to close school,” the superintendent said.

Although Orono students returned to school with an increased police presence Thursday, the closures in Orono and Calais mark the fourth and fifth in recent weeks due to school threats.

In the span of a little more than a week late last month and early this month, schools in Lewiston, the Standish area, Bangor and Old Town faced threats or suspicious messages that caused school officials to take precautions to ensure students’ safety.

Police officers were dispatched to Lewiston High School on Sept. 23 as a precaution and to look into a suspicious note found at the school, but administrators didn’t shut down the school for the day.

At Old Town High School, officials found a note written on a first-floor bathroom wall last Wednesday, on Sept. 29, that presented a threat to student and staff safety. As a result, the school was closed the following day but reopened last Friday with an increased police presence.

Also on Sept. 29, more than 100 miles away in Standish, Bonny Eagle High School officials and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office became aware of a picture circulating on social media that showed a handwritten message describing a threat, according to the sheriff’s office.

Although officials could not determine the origin of the threat nor its physical location, and they said it didn’t name a specific school or district, all schools in School Administrative District 6 — which includes Bonny Eagle — were closed last Thursday.

Portland High School officials decided to call off in-person classes in favor of remote learning that same day out of an abundance of caution.

Last Friday, in Bangor, officials at the Fairmount School evacuated students and staff after a threat was found written inside the school. But students returned to the building after a police search of the building with a bomb dog.

Despite the spate of threats, Maine school safety officials said this week there’s no cause for heightened alarm and that the responses in each situation reflect years of training and planning for such emergencies.

“Schools should have, at this point in time, really good, sound protocols in place, and it didn’t sound like any of the schools had any issues navigating this,” said Jonathan Shapiro, director of the recently formed Maine School Safety Center at the Maine Department of Education. “They took care of it with their stakeholders, they made the decisions they needed to make, and it worked out well.”

 

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...