I am writing regarding the Sun Journal’s Nov. 5 article, “How long did it take for your school to respond?” On Oct. 24, reporter Jessica Alaimo entered Buckfield Junior-Senior High School through the student entrance at 9:15 a.m., and wandered around the building for approximately 40 minutes.

Several staff members asked her if she needed assistance, but none questioned whether she belonged in the building. She then went to the office, asked for a copy of our crisis plan, and exited the building at 10:04.

She was not given a copy of the crisis plan because it was being revised, and, more important, parts of it – such as code words for lockdown or evacuation that need to be kept confidential – are not part of the public record. We are working on a public description of the plan that excludes information that could be used to circumvent it.

In the article, the school received high marks for the number of locked doors around the outside, for having a crisis plan, and for asking the reporter for identification, but poor marks for the time Alaimo spent unchallenged.

The article coincided with the Nov. 2 release of the National Consortium of School Violence Prevention Researchers and Practitioners’ insightful “Fall 2006 School Shootings Position Statement,” the thesis of which is “Research supports a thoughtful approach to safer schools, guided by four key elements: balance, communication, connectedness, and support.”

Regarding balance, the position statement noted two of the recent school shootings deviated from the norm, because the shooters were adults from outside the school community. One of these shootings occurred Oct. 3 at the West Nickel Mines Amish School, where gunman Charles Roberts killed five female students. This was particularly disturbing, as Roberts reportedly was inside the school talking with students for a significant period prior to taking hostages. This mirrored where our security broke down.

In response, I have instructed staff to issue visitor passes to anyone entering the building that is not a student or staff member, and to direct any visitor without a pass to the office. Parents and community members can assist us in this endeavor by signing in at the office upon arrival at BJSHS.

The research also showed extreme physical security measures were an ineffective long-term strategy, and that shootings have occurred in schools employing such measures. When the SAD 39 administrative team recently met to discuss building security, they agreed BJSHS was neither designed for single-point entry, nor would it be the best solution.

To retrofit the school would be expensive, and could alienate students’ feelings of ownership in their school, a point addressed in the report under connectedness: “Students need to feel that they belong at their school and that the school staff and the school community as a whole care for them.”

The report labeled communication as “critical,” and cited studies by the Secret Service and the FBI. It concluded that “The most effective way to prevent targeted acts of violence at school is by maintaining close communication and trust with students and others in the community, so that threats will be reported and can be investigated by responsible authorities.”

Without such threats or observable behaviors, it is nearly impossible to predict and, consequently, interrupt violent acts. The community can assist us with this by immediately reporting any violent threats, or sudden and pronounced changes of moods and related social behaviors. Parents can help by talking to their children about school safety, and explaining the lives at stake far outweigh the “unwritten rules against ‘tattling’ or ‘snitching’ on their peers.”

The final area addressed in the report is support. It calls for “resources to maintain evidence-based programs designed to address…depression, anxiety, bullying, incivility, and various forms of intimidation in schools.”

While we have few formal programs, we have a full-time social worker and part-time substance abuse counselor, as well as policies, disciplinary procedures, and a “Student Assistance Team” that addresses these issues. We have room to improve in this area, and will explore methods of doing so.

Although I believe reporters should report the news and not make it – as they did in this instance – some good did come of it. It made us reflect on our current practice, and has resulted in a safer environment for our students.

Donald J. Reiter is principal of Buckfield Junior/Senior High School.