School security strengthened since Sandy Hook

On Saturday, many of us paused to remember the courage of so many in the face of the evil of one on the anniversary of the senseless school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Just one day before, a  17-year-old senior was critically injured by a classmate, who later shot himself, in a shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, just 10 miles away from Columbine, another tragic reminder of our need to always be prepared even for the most unthinkable.

Here in Maine, schools have always taken the safety and security of their students and staff seriously, but even more so since Newtown. 

While our Department and Maine law protects the specifics related to individual school security plans and procedures, we are pleased to see an increase in inquiries from school administrators, teachers, citizens and first responders for information about school security and emergency preparedness and to hear that more assessments and drills are being held.   Schools are focusing not just of preparing people through developing all-hazard emergency plans and standards procedures, training staff and integrating school security officers, but making facility updates that improve safety, including installing cameras, remote entry control systems and panic buttons.  Some of these emergency preparedness facility upgrade efforts have been supported by federal funding distributed by the Maine Emergency Management Agency, which went to more than 50 schools.

Since the spring, our Department has also been working to examine school security in Maine and have consulted with a national expert on this important work. Our report back to the Legislature on what we’ve discovered about school preparedness and facility security will be released in January and will hopefully further inform local efforts.

On behalf of the Department and all Maine students and their families, I want to thank school staff and first responders including fire, police, emergency managers, social workers and many more for all they have done to keep our schools safe, and all they will continue to do.

While the wounds of Newtown slowly heal, we must never let up on our efforts to ensure our schools are healthy learning environments in which students can be safe and successful. If you are interested in learning more about ways to improve security in your school, we invite you to check out the following resources, or contact our school facilities and transportation expert Pat Hinckley at pat.hinckley@maine.gov or 624-6886. Districts may also contact the Hancock Sheriff’s Office, which has conducted all-hazard assessments, all-hazard emergency plan reviews, training and drills at dozens of schools across Maine over the past decade. For more information, contact Chief Deputy Richard Bishop at rbishop@hancockcountyso.org or 667-7575.

Resources

Please note, as many school staff will be celebrating the holidays with their families next week, the Department will not distribute its weekly Commissioner’s Update on Thursday, Dec. 26. Please expect to receive the DOE Monthly on Tuesday, Dec. 31 and the first Commissioner’s Update of 2014 on Thursday, Jan. 2. Happy holidays from all of us at the Maine DOE!