School Administrative District 6 is struggling with a rash of bomb threats that have disrupted classes, prompted police searches and urgent letters to parents, and extended the school year for some students.

At Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, one threat led to an evacuation in April. A second threat, that a bomb would go off on a specific date in May, prompted officials to cancel classes in advance. On Monday, Bonny Eagle Middle School in Buxton was evacuated.

Each case turned out to be a hoax; the searches turned up no bombs. A juvenile was charged with terrorizing in the threat in April.

School board Chairwoman Lila Wilkins said Tuesday that although the threats turned out to be false, there’s no choice but to treat them seriously.

“It’s worrisome to me that we face a chance of having kids in jeopardy,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything worse than not knowing and being fearful of what you might find. I want our kids to be safe and be in a nurturing environment where learning is the No. 1 thing for them.”

SAD 6 is not alone. Last month, Gray-New Gloucester Middle School was evacuated and a middle school in Bangor received a series of threats.

Last year in Portland, threatening messages prompted four lockdowns at Lyman Moore Middle School and Portland High School in a single month. The situation led to the adoption of a new protocol for handling threats to schools.

School officials made the decisions previously. Now, Portland police immediately send a supervisor and at least one officer to investigate and determine whether a threat is legitimate, said Cmdr. Vern Malloch.

He said police try to identify a suspect early, make contact and resolve the situation, knowing that statistically it’s unlikely that an act of violence against a school would be preceded by a warning.

SAD 6 has dealt with threats before this year. In 1999, unusual security measures were adopted at Bonny Eagle High School after five threats were made in as many days. A metal detector was placed at the entrance and sheriff’s deputies searched students’ bags.

The SAD 6 board voted Monday to add a day to the high school year because of the missed day in May. The school year was already running long because of snow days. Now the high school calendar will run until June 24.

The incidents have Kathleen Pride, the mother of a high school junior, worried about the emotional effect on students, the school they are missing, the financial cost, and the idea that some youths apparently are acting out to get attention.

“It makes me nervous and gets me frustrated,” she said.

Bonny Eagle Middle School Principal Ansel Stevens sent a letter home to parents Monday, after a threatening message was found written on a bathroom wall. He noted that such threats can lead to felony charges and could make first responders unavailable for real emergencies.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said that while such threats are likely to be hoaxes, each is treated seriously.

“We’re going to prosecute when we find out who does it. There will be no slaps on the wrist,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]