Simple strategies for safer, more effective schools

Next week, I have the honor of speaking about school security at the Maine Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference. I am excited to share all the advancements we’ve made here in recent years to strengthen the safety and security of our schools, especially since the shootings at Sandy Hook.

Most notably, thanks to two security reports commissioned by the Legislature and our Department and produced by Safe Havens International and PDT Architects, Maine schools now better understand their vulnerabilities and opportunities to better ensure student and staff safety.

Knowing how important this work is can often make it daunting for districts and schools boards to figure out where to best begin. That’s why as a follow-up to those assessments and in partnership with Safe Havens International, we are pleased to provide a free school security guide entitled 20 Simple Strategies to Safer and More Effective Schools.

This guide recognizes that while all of us are committed to keeping our schools safe, there are often limited financial or human resources to devote to security enhancements. As a result, the impactful improvements presented within its pages are both practical and low or no cost. While the Department and the guide’s authors acknowledge these evidence-based strategies are not all that can and should be done, they have been proven in other states to be achievable and effective and we believe they will help focus your local security planning efforts.

On behalf of the Department and all Maine schools, I want to extend our deepest appreciation to Safe Havens International for developing this resource for our use at no cost.

Providing you this resource is just one of the many ways the Maine DOE is working to provide school and community leaders the tools they need to keep our schools safe. In the coming weeks, we will be moving forward on a contract for review of our building standards and guidelines, a major focus of which will be security. While those standards are developed for new construction and major renovations, we believe the findings will be of value to all schools when they are released later this year.

In the meantime, we continue to meet regularly with our State partners in protection including the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the Maine State Police, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure better agency coordination in providing proactive technical assistance and response services.

Our own collaboration and communication with other State-level agencies is something we hope you’ll replicate locally. What continues to come through in all work done here in Maine and nationally on emergency preparedness is the importance of pulling our silos down and our sleeves up and talking, planning and working together. School security is not solely the responsibility of our schools, rather a collective commitment that must be shared between school/district employees, county emergency management agencies, first responders, school board and community members, and of course, students.

The Maine Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference, which will be held next week at the Augusta Civic Center and is free to attend, is a great place to begin breaking down those barriers. Last year, conference organizers included a school strand for the first time, signifying the interest of the emergency response community in the safety of our students. Superintendents, school boards, teachers and school administrators are especially encouraged to attend the opening day of the conference from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22 given the school security sessions scheduled. While online registration is now closed, we have confirmed with the Maine Emergency Management Agency that they will allow our school partners to register at the door.

For more information about school security, visit these resources: