AUGUSTA – A measure that could lead to millions of dollars in security upgrades at Maine schools was backed Thursday by both the state teachers union and the head of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
The bill, which was the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, would require the Maine Department of Education to study various physical steps to make schools safer when dealing with natural disasters as well as events like the shootings in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed at an elementary school in December.
The study, to be completed by the end of the year, would look at enhanced security for doors and windows in school buildings, electronic locking doors that can be monitored and controlled by administrators using video cameras, and “ballistic protection” for the walls surrounding administrators’ offices.
The bill the committee took up Thursday said those steps need to be included in the study, but the department can consider other safety measures. The goal is to develop security requirements for new school designs, as well as add-ons for existing school buildings.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance, said his involvement is “personal” and has not been reviewed or endorsed by SAM’s board.
Trahan outlined his proposals for state Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, who submitted them to the committee, which incorporated the suggestions into the broader measure considered Thursday and introduced by Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico.
Trahan said his goal is not to turn schools into fortresses, but to buy time for law enforcement to respond if an intruder tries to get in.
“The intent is to build a school that, in the event of a hostile intruder, slows them down,” he said.
Trahan said he has helped local committees work on designs for two new schools in his community and, in the pre-Newtown days, security wasn’t a key focus.
“We heard lots of discussion on what artwork to include and virtually none on the entryways,” he said.
Rob Walker, the executive director of the Maine Education Association, also endorsed the study.
He noted that after the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, schools across the country developed plans on how to react to a shooting. But most of the effort was focused on keeping students inside locked classrooms once the shooting started, he said, not on preventing intruders from entering in the first place.
Additional security, such as bullet-resistant glass in windows and monitored doors, Walker said, can also enhance learning by easing anxiety about safety.
“Feeling safe is just as important as being safe,” he told the committee.
The bill does not address how to fund the additional security measures, but Briggs said possibilities include a statewide bond or perhaps federal grants that might become available to address school safety.
Trahan said that if a bond proposal for school safety were put on the ballot, “it would pass with 90 percent.”
The committee is expected to vote on the bill next week.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: