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Maine Schools Reassess Security in Wake of Connecticut Shootings
12/17/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

State officials and school administrators are reassuring the public regarding school safety in the wake of Friday's shootings in Connecticut.  At the same, they're also reassessing existing security measures to see if any lessons can be learned from the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which claimed the lives of 20 children and 7 of the school's teachers. Tom Porter has more.

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Maine Schools Reassess Security in Wake of Connect
Originally Aired: 12/17/2012 5:30 PM

It was an emotional weekend across America - especially for those in the education profession.  Lois Kilby-Chesley is president of the Maine Education Association, which represents most of the state's 16,000-plus public school teachers.

"I think all of us, all parents, all educators, all community members, expect our schools to be safe havens, and when something like this happens, it just is totally devatating for everyone," she says.

Security measures at Maine public schools are tight, she says, and most teachers feel secure at work.

"Schools on a regular basis have evacuation plans, have emergency plans, have crisis plans, and they have practice drills, very similar to what we think of as a fire drill, that would be some sort of emergency plan that's in place for most schools, if not all of them, in Maine," she says.  "So teachers in Maine feel pretty safe."

Nevertheless, state Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen wants to see if security can be improved. He began the week sending memos to the state's public schools to review their emergency management plans - which are required under law.

Speaking on MPBN's Maine Calling show Monday afternoon, Bowen said the state Department of Education is creating a Web site specifically to address issues arising from the shooting..

"Our school districts are responding as we knew they would - they're reviewing their safety protocols, they're getting their guidance counselors set up, they're creating opportunities for kids and families who need support," he said.

One topic under discussion is a proposal to require schools to hold lock-down drills in addition to their existing evacuation plans.
While he understands that some parents will be concerned sending their kids to school after Friday's events, Bowen dsecribes schools in Maine as "very, very safe places"

"Could they be made safer with increased security and metal detectors? I mean, I suppose they could. I guess the question is, what is that sense, that feeling you want to have, when you go into building? And again, I think these things local districts are beginning to explore and talk to the public and talk to school boards about, what's their level of comfort with security procedures?"

"Anytime that there is a tragedy like this, and they're all too often, you'll see school systems all across the United States pull out their crisis plans, try to learn from what has happened and make their own campuses a bit more secure," says Paul Stearns, president of the Maine School Superintendents Association.

He's also head of district SAD 4, which covers 600 students in six towns in rural central Maine, north of Bangor. One security measure he'd like to see is the addition of a uniformed police resource officer to the district.

"I think it would be a fantastic thing for our school system," he says. "We've written grants in the past where we've tried to collaborate with the Piscataquis Sheriff's Office to seek money to be able to fund a resource officer, and we've been unsuccessful in those attempts."

The number of resource officers available to schools varies. Some districts - like SAD 4 - have none, while some of the bigger schools have their own dedicated officer, according to the Maine Education Association.  RSU 5 in Freeport has one resource officer to share among six schools. Superintendent Shannon Welsh says the officer spends most of his time at the middle and high school.

"Our approach is for him to build strong relationships with kids, so kids feel comfortable about situations, and that gives us the potential to act pro-actively and prevent the situation from occuring," Welch says.

Commissioner Bowen says in the upcoming legislative session, it's likely that the department will revisit options for providing resources to schools that are seeking up upgrade security.  To access the state of Maine's online resources on school safety, click here.

In the interests of full disclosure, the Maine Education Association represents some employees of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.



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