School security on the mind of RSU 68 officials

By Stuart Hedstrom
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — Following the fatal shooting of 20 students and a half dozen adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last month, school administrators across the country have been considering safety and security measures — what is in place and what could be changed — to help deter future crises, for their own facilities. Officials in RSU 68 have been examining such practices for the SeDoMoCha School, and discussed building security during a Jan. 8 meeting (their first since the Sandy Hook shooting).

    “Clearly the horrific events that have taken place recently have put school security on the forefront,” Superintendent Alan Smith said. He said the district has measures in place for emergency situations, but many of the details cannot be disclosed for safety reasons. Smith said he realizes parents and others could get frustrated when information cannot be revealed, but he said someone could use this knowledge — for instance a designated meeting spot — against the school and those who go there.

    Smith said students and faculty and staff have practiced evacuations of the SeDoMoCha building — which houses students in pre-kindergarten through grade 8. A lockdown drill had been postponed due to the timing of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, with the school still coping with the incident in Connecticut.

    “(Dover-Foxcroft Police Chief Dennis Dyer) and I have spoken,” Smith said. “They have new people and also people who aren’t fully aware of this building.” Smith said members of the police department will tour the building, which opened in its current form a half decade ago, to gain an understanding of the layout of the facility and offer possible suggestions for what administrators can do with their security measures.

    “The other thing we talked about at the board level is security cameras,” Smith said as the district directors have looked at the possibility of installing such devices at several locations in and around the building which could have 30-day storage capacity. “What would they do? How would they work? What in my dream of dreams would I like to see?”

    Smith said he would like to have panoramic cameras placed on several exterior walls, at the main entrance and for several common areas inside such as the cafeteria, gymnasium and hallways. “I don’t have a number, I just have spaces,” he said, adding that the camera system would be able to be tapped into by law enforcement to see the video feed in real time.

    The estimated cost of the camera system would be in the $80,000 to $100,000 range. Smith explained the funds could come from a district fund balance and “it would be up to the community to allow that money to be removed.” He said this would be done during the budget process in the spring as RSU 68 voters would need to approve transferring the monies from the fund balance to a facilities account and then approve the line item for the account as part of the 2013-14 school spending plan.

    Technology Director David Bridges has been working to help determine the types of cameras that would best fit the needs for campus, and Smith said he has spoken with officials at the Ridge View Community School in Dexter on the system in place at that building, which opened several years ago. “They have found it to be very positive on other levels too,” Smith said, saying cameras can act as a deterrent and footage can be used if incidents have to be reviewed.

    “To be a small community you think it could never happen here, but it could,” Board Chair Rick Johnston said.

    Referring to the Sandy Hook Elementary School board member Sue Mackey Andrews said, “That building was secure, that building was locked, it had all the bells and whistles and it was still penetrated.”

    Mackey Andrews said parents need to be involved in school emergency response plans. She mentioned in Connecticut parents went directly to the school when news of the shooting spread, as opposed to a predetermined emergency meeting location, which added to the chaos. “Parents really need to understand what the drill is,” Mackey Andrews said, such as a call being made to an automated phone list explaining what is taking place and providing instructions from a predetermined plan.

    She also said a possible method of preventing incidents would be for children to listen and be aware of their surroundings, and knowing what to do if something does not feel right such as speaking to a trusted adult.

    After the discussion, the school directors voted to move forward with seeking the school camera system.

    “Like a lot of schools we are spending a lot of time looking at our crisis response plan,” Foxcroft Academy Head of School Arnold Shorey said. He said the secondary school is working with Chief Dyer and Smith as “we continue to plan and practice and follow a certain protocol.”

    In his report Shorey said decisions were recently made to have all staff wear a Foxcroft Academy identification badge and have all classroom doors set to lock, and school officials are working with local agencies to ensure school level plans integrate seamlessly with emergency response planning. A facility budget for 2013-14 and beyond has been planned to address safety concerns, and students are being reminded that they are a very important part of the process.

    In other business, Smith said administrators would be meeting soon with the budget committee on their initial proposals for the next school year. “Once that part is done the real work begins — where we are at, where we are going and how it compares to last year,” he said.

    “We have a curtailment of just under $58,000,” Smith said about the impact of a plan of Gov. Paul LePage’s to address a state budget shortfall. “The question to me from board members is how are we going to pay that and the answer is I don’t know. It has to come from within the lines of the budget and $58,000 isn’t something you take lightly. It isn’t going to negatively affect the educational programs we have, I will ensure that.”

    Smith said some responses have indicated that parents of next year’s pre-kindergarten students would be interested in taking advantage of transportation provided by the district if such as service was available. “I think there’s enough interest, at least initially, to put it in the budget,” he said. “Whether it would survive the budget process I don’t know.”

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