December 18, 2012

Schools in Maine, state officials put renewed focus on security measures

Some Maine school districts have beefed up security temporarily in response to the massacre, while others are calling for thorough reviews of security protocol.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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A Portland police cruiser sits Monday in front of Longfellow Elementary School on Stevens Avenue as police stepped up patrols of schools in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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Regional School Unit 14 Superintendent Sandy Prince said the front offices at Raymond schools have the same measures. He said the district has been looking at ways to install similar systems in Windham schools, and got a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help pay for them. He hopes to have the systems in place this summer.

In 2006, seven years after the Columbine shootings, the Lewiston Sun Journal sent reporters to schools in its area to test their security. In nearly half of the schools, a reporter was able to walk around unnoticed for several minutes. That investigation led the Maine Department of Education to issue security recommendations.

State law requires school districts to have comprehensive plans to address emergencies ranging from shootings to bomb threats to natural disasters to fires. Local emergency responders must participate in the development of those plans.

Safety protocols vary depending on the school district, the type of school and, in some cases, the year a school was built. Newer schools tend to have more built-in safety measures.

School officials used to practice evacuation drills, herding students out in calm, single-file fashion. Now, most schools also incorporate lockdown drills into their routines, so they can ensure safety if everyone must stay inside the building.

In a letter to parents, Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Meredith Nadeau said Monday that her schools practiced such drills last month.

The state was considering making lockdown drills mandatory even before the Newtown shootings, said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Monday's email from the department to schools recommended that school officials work with Maine Emergency Management Agency officials to update their procedures.

"Law enforcement at all levels -- from local to state -- are given intensive and consistent training on how to deal with an 'active shooter' situation," the email said. "In the event of a shooting incident, we have people across the state with a high level of training prepared to step in. ... We can all do more, and this horrible event is a reminder that we must continually re-examine our efforts in this area."

In the wake of Friday's shootings, some schools, including those in Portland, have increased security temporarily, including having police patrol nearby.

In many areas of the state, schools already have armed police officers in the halls. The state doesn't track how many schools employ resource officers, but the decision often comes down to whether a town agrees to fund them.

Brown, the superintendent in Augusta, said not all of her schools have armed resource officers, but she thinks they are a good idea.

"There should be someone in the school who might be prepared if something like this happened," she said.

Heidi Valeriani, whose 5-year-old kindergartner, Tammy, attends Reiche Community School in Portland, said she believes her daughter's school is safe, but she couldn't help but feel a bit nervous Monday.

"I'm worried to a certain extent," she said, but "you can't think, 'Oh my gosh, we have to lock down completely.' This is a safe community."

Another Reiche parent, Salena Manzer, said more security, such as police officers and screening, is needed.

"They have cops at Portland High School," she said. "We shouldn't just let random people in and out of schools."

As school officials seek to assure parents and other community members that their schools are safe, there is an economic reality. Security improvements are often expensive, and most school budgets are being slashed.

But Shepherd, with Safe Havens International, said schools can do many things to increase security without adding much cost, such as educating staffers and empowering them to make decisions

"After a big tragedy, everyone wants to get metal detectors and high-security fixtures," she said. "But the best thing is usually to enforce the policies that are already in place."

– Staff writers Leslie Bridgers, Matt Byrne and Ann S. Kim contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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Today's poll: School security

Do you think Maine schools need to increase security in response to the Connecticut school shooting?



View Results