Medomak Middle School in Waldoboro is pictured on March 31, 2022. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Two unrelated threats at Medomak Middle School, neither of which resulted in physical injury, have raised discussion in the district about how student safety is addressed following state and federal privacy laws.

RSU 40 Superintendent Steve Nolan said in an email on Monday that the district is working to find a balance between following privacy laws and informing families.

Laws like the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the state Student Information Privacy Act prohibit schools from releasing information about students that might identify them, unless the school has permission from their parents.

These laws limited details available about the two threats. The first took place in early December and response continued throughout that month, while the second threat on Jan. 3 was shared with parents the following day.

Medomak Middle School parent Cristy Winchenbach said that a “kill list” naming six children, including her own, was written by a student on Dec. 5. Winchenbach said the student threatened a classmate two days later, whose parents called the school that evening.

An email sent to MMS parents by Principal Kate Race on Dec. 21 confirmed a “recent threat.” RSU 40 and school administrators said they were unable to confirm the existence, details, or timeline of the alleged kill list specifically because of privacy laws.

According to Winchenbach, she and other parents of children named on the list were notified by phone on Dec. 8.

Winchenbach and some of those parents set up a meeting with Nolan and Race on Dec. 20, she said. Parents were told the student was suspended for 10 days, the maximum suspension allowed by district policy, according to Winchenbach. Any additional time out of school, following district policy, would require the student to come before the RSU 40 Board of Directors for an expulsion hearing.

At that meeting, Winchenbach said she asked what was being done to keep children safe and was told the school could not comment.

When asked to confirm these events shared by parents, Nolan said in an email on Dec. 28 that he could not release information about students and staff. Nolan said on Dec. 22 that there was “no reason to believe there are any credible threats to the safety of our students and staff.”

According to Winchenbach and Jimmy Spear, whose child also appeared on the list, the student was not in school when classes reconvened from winter break on Jan. 3.

That same day, Medomak Middle School parents received an email through ParentSquare regarding the identification of another threat at school. The email said the threat had been addressed and did not disclose additional information.

A second email to parents from Race sent on Jan. 4 said a student had brought a pocket knife and nonfunctional Airsoft gun to school without intent to use them. She said a five-member team followed the threat assessment guidelines and concluded the student did not pose a threat.

Nolan said that while the district cannot share student details, it can share the general protocol used in RSU 40.

He said trained staff has recently begun to use the Maine Department of Education’s Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines to determine whether a threat is transient, meaning there is no actionable intent to harm, or substantive, meaning it is likely to be acted upon.

The threat assessment is a 22-page form evaluation including a decision-making tree.

“We have had a comprehensive emergency management plan for years and practice evacuation and lockdown drills as required by law,” he said in a Dec. 28 email.

Nolan said the addition of the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines training provides “a comprehensive school-based threat assessment model to better identify warning signs and provide interventions when needed.”

Spear said he and other parents wanted to see “more protection for victims” than this protocol provides, referring to threatened students like those on the alleged list.

Winchenbach said that parents were not upset with the administration, but with the laws that limited the amount of information families received about the threat and how their children would be protected in the future.

For example, she said, privacy laws mean that if two students fight at school, the school cannot tell parents which other child was involved.

She and Spear both said they contacted the Waldoboro Police Department and were told the department legally has to rely on the results of an investigation by an internal committee at the school. Winchenbach said she was later told by the school that the results of the investigation would also be confidential.

Spear and Winchenbach both said they had planned to seek legal counsel and pull their children from MMS if the student returned to class. Spear has considered homeschooling his child, but feels there are downsides to both options.

“You want to send them to school so they can enjoy a life with other kids, but you don’t know they’re safe there,” he said.

He said adding a resource officer to the middle school and adult monitors to school buses would make him feel children were safer. Nolan did not address a request for comment on these suggestions.

“We are always willing to consider additional resources to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” Nolan said. “Training staff in the CSTAG protocol is a recent example we were able to implement with little to no cost to the district.”

The two parents said they are organizing with others to contact state senators asking for changes in the privacy laws that kept them from learning about the details of the threat and the school’s investigation.

“You had a dry run,” Winchenbach said another parent told her about the December threat. “You’re lucky. This could have been very different.”

This article appears through a media partnership with The Lincoln County News.