School security topic of SAD 17 discussion

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PARIS – SAD 17 Director Bob Jewell told his fellow board members last week that additional measures should be taken now, rather than later, to ensure students and staff are safe in the district schoolrooms.

With two more shootings on school campuses resulting in the death of 11 students and teachers occurring nationwide and since a local incident in March between two students on social media required temporary additional police presence on campus at the Oxford Hills Middle School, Jewell said voters should be asked now if they want to spend more money to further secure the buildings.

“I think we should go forward with a warrant so people can decide what they want to do,” he said during the open comment portion of the May 17 school board meeting. “We really do need to work at it today, not two years out.”

Under state law, Maine school districts must have comprehensive emergency plans, hold regular lock down drills and review security plans with school boards every year. But security protocols, such as buzzer systems, regular lock down drills and other measures vary depending on many variables including financing and even the age of the school buildings.

School security has been high on the agenda of SAD 17 school officials for years, money has been put into better securing the school buildings, new policies have been put in place, ongoing training, discussion and planning occurs, but with school shootings becoming more commonplace in recent times, some say enough has not been done.

“I think there are some physical things (on the buildings) we can do. I think we probably should be looking at them today rather than two years out,” Jewell told his fellow board members.

But while all seemed to agree that in a financially perfect world, money could better secure school buildings,  not all agreed that doing so would completely solve the problem.

“You can make physical changes but you’re not going to make them 100 percent secure. People can get through barricaded doors,” said SAD 17 Board of Directors Chairman Ron Kugell, who is a former Oxford police chief.

The other big issue is addressing the at-risk students, Kugell said. “You have to try to get into the psyche of the perpetrator … it’s just as important. It’s a complicated issue,” he said.

“I think that’s just as important to think about how we can prevent students from feeling they need to get revenge,”Kugell said …”Some students are bullied or perceived that they’re bullied, which leads to the mentality they want to get even.”

School Superintendent Rick Colpitts said he has meet with the police chiefs in the region to address school security and surprisingly the conversations about what to do varied.

“The response has been different from each,” he said.

Colpitts said that he would prefer to not rush forward.

“I’m not willing to jump on the band wagon and say we need to do something immediately,” said Colpitts. Rather, he said  “more comprehensive conversations” needs to take place.

Some funding is in the proposed Fiscal 2019 budget for additional security measures and the state Legislature may come through with additional funding to address lower level security issues at schools that need to increase their security, he said.

Colpitts said he will meet with board members in executive session to talk about the details of the district security plan.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net