FORT KENT, Maine — Valley Unified Superintendent Ben Sirois warned parents and residents Wednesday to not be naive in thinking that a school shooting couldn’t happen in northern Maine.
Administrators of Valley Unified schools in Madawaska, St. Agatha and Fort Kent developed a plan several years ago to keep students safe and have been building on it, especially in the wake of an increased number of school shootings across the country. Sirois said there have been security measures for at least the eight years that he has been in the school system.
On the day after a school shooting in Uvdale, Texas, where 19 elementary school-aged children and two teachers were killed, Sirois issued a letter to parents discussing the Valley Unified safety plan.
“Although we don’t want to think about it, it goes without saying that after each school shooting occurs, we cannot be naive to something this tragic happening in our remote area of Northern Maine,” Sirois said.
The Maine School Safety Center also urged the state’s schools to review their emergency plans and to make sure local law enforcement knows what they are.
Entry doors at all Valley Unified schools are kept locked during the school day, and visitors to the schools must be granted access to the building by office personnel.
With the use of COVID funds, the high schools in all three towns were provided safety vestibules at the entranceways, providing an extra layer of protection against potential attackers. These funds also were used to enhance video surveillance systems in each of the schools.
With the use of school revolving renovation fund loans, such safety vestibules will be completed at the remaining Valley Unified schools by the end of summer break, he said.
The schools are all ALICE-certified for active shooter training of students and staff.
ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate, is a training program designed to equip people with the skills they would need if ever an active shooter or aggressive intruder were in the school building or on school grounds.
Sirois said in order to keep students safe it is crucial that people speak up when faced with any information that could indicate the potential for school violence. Education Week reports that the Uvdale shooting is the 27th in the United States this year so far and the 119th since 2018, Sirois said.
“We cannot express enough the importance of ‘see something, say something’ in this age of social media and in consideration of the mental health crisis in this nation,” Sirois said. “All the school security measures in the world do not compare to a proactive approach to preventing these tragic events, and oftentimes, individuals who plan for a mass shooting often share information on their social media accounts days prior to taking action.”
Along with the letter, Sirois included information for parents and educators about talking to children about violence.