2012-12-28 / In the News

School team to address security issues

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

School and town officials knew they couldn’t sit idle as news of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.came in Friday, Dec. 14.

A new group, the Health, Safety and Security Team, has been set up in town to make sure the tragedy – in which 20 first grade students and seven adults were shot and killed – doesn’t happen in Scarborough.

Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle said the group could deal with issues such as bullying, texting while driving, crisis response, safety/security issues and access to the schools, or response to public health risks such as H1N1.

The group, which will have its first meeting in early January, “will be responsible for issue identification, prioritization and resolution by tapping into the expertise and experience of the schools’ staffs and members of the town,” he said.

The group will be made up of Entwistle; Assistant Superintendent JoAnne Sizemore; Town Manager Tom Hall; two of the building principals; Fire Chief B. Michael Thurlow; Police Chief Robert Moulton; a member of the school health service team; guidance/ social workers; two parents; facilities director Todd Jepson; technology director Jennifer Nitchman; a school resource officer; and a representative from both the Board of Education and Town Council.

Hall said the group will make not only Scarborough schools better, but the community as a whole better as well.

“These aren’t just school issues. They are community issues. We need to have the community ready when the time comes and the need arises,” Hall said.

Town Councilor Kate St. Clair, a mother of four who was recently elected to her first term as a public official, said she has heard from many concerned parents and is committed to helping address the concerns.

“I don’t think it matters if you have children in the school system or not, this is something that affects the community,” she said. “We owe it to the kids in this community and the folks who teach and work in the schools that they are going into a safe environment.”

Entwistle told members of the Board of Education at its Thursday, Dec. 20 meeting that he has been visiting Scarborough’s six schools regularly since the Newtown, Conn. shooting and has been impressed with how the students and staff have responded. On Monday, Dec. 17, school counselors were made available to students and staff who needed assistance as they returned to the classroom.

“Things in Scarborough are going well,” he told the board. “We are having good days of learning. We have students who are focused and staff who are focused.”

Nevertheless, Entwistle has asked members of the district’s leadership team to reexamine safety procedure in Scarborough schools.

Currently at each of the district’s six schools, visitors are asked to sign in at the main office and in many cases wear a name tag or visitor’s pass while in the schools. Entwistle, who has continued to update parents in the community through written statements, indicated he stands by the schools’ safety protocols, but noted it is worth examining as to whether or not it could be done differently.

“While we are confident in our current school safety/security protocols, I have asked the leadership teams in each school to reassess current plans and practices for the purpose of improving and/or strengthening safety/security throughout our school community,” Entwistle wrote in a Dec. 14 letter to parents.

The district’s schools are well prepared in the case an emergency does arise. In each school a crisis intervention team has been formed to, according to the student handbook, “facilitate a smooth and caring response in the event of a crisis, realizing the importance of maintaining a normal school atmosphere while providing help for those students and adults who need our support.”

A crisis response plan for each school has also been formalized. The plan includes “management guidelines and specific intervention strategies” for emergencies both inside and outside the school building.

In efforts to ensure safety and to deal with issues that come up at Scarborough High School and Scarborough Middle School, for years the police department has assigned school resource officers to the two schools.

Local police and state police investigated threats to schools in Cumberland and York counties that had allegedly been made on Facebook on Wednesday, Dec. 19. Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety said Colonel Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, found “no credible threat against any Maine school.”

“State Police has not found any threats directed at Maine on Facebook, or any other social media,” Williams said in a statement released on Thursday, Dec. 20. “We have chased baseless rumors throughout the past 24 hours and found no credible threat directed at any Maine school.”

Williams said his office and other state agencies would continue working with local police departments and school districts to “evaluate information for the continued safety and security of Maine schools.”

Entwistle said school officials and law enforcement are collaborating to look at school safety on a local level.

“We are working collaboratively with Scarborough’s Chief of Police and Public Safety personnel to ensure that ours is a coordinated effort,” Entwistle wrote in a Wednesday, Dec. 19 letter to parents. “Police presence will be monitored and adjusted to be responsive to our needs and may be noticeably increased.”

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