PORTLAND — The terrorizing charge against a Freeport Middle School teacher who spoke in class about shooting a rifle will be dismissed if he avoids criminal conduct for the next 60 days.

David Mason, 59, pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court on Monday. He was issued a court summons Feb. 14 for what he said during a seventh-grade social studies class the previous week.

Parents have told the Portland Press Herald that Mason spoke about shooting students on the school’s roof with an M-16. John Richardson, Mason’s attorney, disputed that but would not say exactly what Mason said.

According to Assistant District Attorney Michael Madigan, Mason said something like, “I’m going to go on the roof with an M-16 and start shooting.”

Mason will spend the next academic year working on curriculum in the superintendent’s office and may retire after that, Richardson said after Monday’s brief court proceeding. Mason declined to comment.

Richardson said Mason fears that a “dumb remark” made in frustration will overshadow the achievements of his 30-year teaching career.

“It was an inartful attempt to gain their attention so they would focus on the moment,” Richardson said.

The terrorizing charge against Mason is a Class D offense, the second-lowest level. It carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

One element of the crime is that the person to whom the threat is directed has a reasonable fear that the act will be committed.

Richardson said he and Mason were confident that they would have prevailed at trial but the negotiated agreement with the prosecution was the prudent course.

Richardson said he and Mason believed that no reasonable child would have taken Mason’s statement seriously.

Madigan disagreed, saying all he would have had to do was have one student testify that he or she was frightened.

Some students said Mason would never hurt them, some said his remark was a joke, and some were scared, Madigan said.

“If one child is scared, that’s enough. And that’s unacceptable,” he said.

It doesn’t matter exactly what Mason said because any remark made in a classroom about shooting on a school roof is inappropriate, said Jack Matheson, the father of one of the social studies students.

“The bottom line is, if kids are in class with a teacher, they should feel safe,” Matheson said. “It sounds like, in this case, some of the kids — not all of them — didn’t feel safe.”

But another father, Paul Lowe, said common sense may have been lost in a politically correct environment.

“Maybe this guy shouldn’t have said this. It was a poor choice of words. Take him aside and say, ‘Hey you shouldn’t have said that,’ ” Lowe said. “Sometimes, even as parents, we all say things we don’t mean: ‘I’m going to knock your head off.’ I’m not actually going to do that.”

Regional School Unit 5 officials began investigating the allegations after getting reports that a teacher may have made an inappropriate, threatening statement to students. Mason was put on paid administrative leave Feb. 9.

Superintendent Shannon Welsh said Mason has not worked in the classroom since then. She said he has been based in the central office, writing social studies curriculum since the spring.

“He hasn’t worked with kids,” she said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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Twitter: AnnKimPPH