By Marianne Hutchinson
MEXICO — A group of about two dozen concerned residents, state representatives, local teachers, school board representatives or students met Thursday to formulate ideas on how to keep students in area schools safe.
The group gathered at The Paper Plate, where they were invited by owner Roland “Rollie” Bousquet and Gary Dolloff, director of the Greater Rumford Community Center, to “figure out a way to help our schools be more secure.”
Both men attended a Regional School Unit 10 meeting Monday and said their concern for school safety grew after 17 students or staff members gunned down Feb. 14 at a South Florida high school.
“I just want to be in front of this for our area, not just for Rumford and Mexico,” Dolloff said.
“My goal is to start off with at least one resource officer in the school for this district and for Dixfield.”
He said the members of the community needed to vote in a resource officer and be sure an officer is included in the budgeting process of the school boards and towns.
Rumford police officer Brad Gallant spoke of how the police talk to school staff and administrators about physical security at schools, such as the importance of locking doors.
“The schools have been actively working to upgrade their security systems,” Gallant said, “and all of us, teachers, staff and police, now have key cards to get in rather than the old punch codes.”
He also said police have an emergency-paging system that contacts officers even when they are at home if there is a major incident.
“And most of us live locally,” Gallant said, “and one officer lives within five miles of the police department.”
Buckfield Junior-Senior High School student school board representative Seneca Jacobs said, “We had a middle-schooler today threaten to shoot up the school, police had to come.” Jacobs later said she thought that schools should have metal detectors at entryways, “anything to prevent anybody from coming in that could hurt us.”
She added that the high school needs a buzzer system for its main entrance because they do not have one.
Rumford resident Stacey Gilbert and her husband, Jeff, attended the meeting because they were upset that their daughter received a message from a classmate saying he wanted “to harm her and shoot up the school.”
The student was suspended, but no charges were brought and the student is now back at school.
“When a child is feeling unsafe, it doesn’t matter what we think if it’s going to happen or not happen. If they’re not feeling safe we have to fix it,” Gilbert said.
Jeff Gilbert added that he thought students should lose their right to be in school when they say or do things that make other students fearful.
“Students in school have the right to be safe,” he said.
RSU 10 school board director Greg Buccina of Rumford told the group that the school board is “taking the issue seriously.”
“We’re looking at our camera systems and intercom systems so that we can better communicate,” Buccina said. “I support (having) a resource officer in the school district and we’re going to be discussing that.”
Peter DeFilipp, an RSU 10 school board director from Mexico, said he thought that students who are identified as posing a threat to a school “should be required that the parents go through the (student’s) room and check for firearms that they’re not aware of, that the kid may have.”
State Representative John Madigan attended the meeting, along with Senator Lisa Keim. Madigan told the group that there has been “a serious effort in Augusta to come up with a committee to deal with the long-range implications of (school violence)” and “a major effort in Augusta to try to do something.”
Senator Keim encouraged the group to come up with a “step-by-step plan for a protocol of how we’re going to handle things.”
“It’s important on a state level that they see that the community members are interested and we can move forward with a plan that’s solid,” Keim said.
Mountain Valley High School provided the group with cards asking for feedback and recommendations from the community on how to make the school a safe place for students, staff members and the community.