Lewiston High School students join hands March 21 in remembrance of the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Since that shooting, experts are reviewing ways to make schools safer. (Sun Journal file photo)

LEWISTON — Since the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, school administrators are taking an even harder look at what can be done to ensure student safety, Lewiston-Auburn superintendents say.

Lewiston City Councilor Michael Marcotte on Monday night asked Superintendent Bill Webster what is being done to protect students from a Parkland-like catastrophe.

A number of things, Webster said.

He said administrators are reviewing procedures, which can be critical in a shooting situation.

“From all I’ve read we can and should spend more money to upgrade the physical plant of our schools, but equally important are the procedures that we’re going to use in the event of an emergency.”

Lewiston and Auburn schools are working with safety experts reviewing protocols.

Auburn administrators have met with safety expert Scott Parker “to review lessons learned from what happened,” Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

The department has proposed spending about $80,000 in security camera upgrades and $50,000 for district-wide safety initiatives. What kind of security upgrades will be made hasn’t been decided.

“We want to talk to experts about what are things we could continue to do. Metal detectors have come up,” Grondin said. “Has that shown to be effective?”

Statewide, some are talking about the need to change state mandates on student drills. State law requires nine fire drills per year and one lockdown, Webster said. Saying there are few fires in schools, Webster said the mandated number of lockdown drills should be higher.

Since Parkland, Auburn and Lewiston students and staff have undergone those drills. “There are schools that had lockdown drills today,” Webster said Monday.

Some districts are talking about hiring more school resource officers.

Lewiston and Auburn school departments each have three school resource officers who are police officers in Lewiston-Auburn. In Lewiston, one school resource officer is at the high school, another at the middle school. A third covers the six elementary schools.

In Auburn, one officer is at the high school, another is assigned to the middle school and Walton and East Auburn elementary schools, said Deputy Chief Jason Moen. A third officer is assigned to Park Avenue, Washburn, Fairview and Sherwood Heights elementary schools.

The new Connors Elementary School under construction near Lewiston High School won’t have bulletproof doors and windows, but it will have video cameras inside and outside the school, Webster said.

The cameras will cover hallways and all entry and exit points, he said. The cameras will have a direct link to the Lewiston Police Department, Webster said.

He said landscaping will be sparse so that a shooter wouldn’t have a place to hide outside.

Connors school will have big windows letting in lots of light, he said.

“Some have expressed concern about the windows’ visibility” to a shooter, Webster said. “But that visibility would be critical for responding to a shooting situation,” he said, adding that there will be shades on windows and doors.

Classroom doors will have windows allowing teachers to see any hall activity, he said. Hallways will be wide with no objects, which means there’d be no place to hide.

Visitors will have to go through multiple steps to enter the school, which will be locked during school hours. Visitors will have to show identification, state their reason for being there and sign in. Then they would be buzzed in.

At other schools, “we’re still beefing up security cameras,” which don’t have the kind of coverage that the new school will have, Webster said. But Lewiston “is looking at ways we might slow down an intruder.”

School districts statewide are working with the Maine Department of Education, which put out a safety advisory after the Parkland shooting.

Webster said that no matter what precautions are taken, lives could be lost at a school shooting anywhere.

“If there is a committed shooter out there, at some point he or she will be able to ascertain the vulnerabilities in any building no matter what we do,” Webster said. “You can never have 100 percent certainty that a school and occupants are safe. That’s very sad.”

As long as there’s a proliferation of not only guns but the type of rapid-fire guns available, “there’s a high level of risk in our society for gun violence,” Webster said.

Staff Writer Andrew Rice also contributed to this report. 

Free security guide

A free school security guide created for the Maine Department of Education by Safe Havens International titled “Twenty Simple Strategies to Safer and More Effective Schools” is available on the MDOE website, https://tinyurl.com/y7k6lpeq.

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