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Bomb threat prompts concerns from local parents

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
November 14, 2018
LANCASTER — On the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 7, parents gathered at the Lancaster Elementary School along with school officials to discuss the third bomb threat the school has dealt with over the past year. On Nov. 6, the students and staff at the Lancaster Elementary School were evacuated after a student reported that they had found a bomb threat written on a bathroom stall.

The Lancaster Police Department, along with Superintendent Dr. Marion Anastasia, were called immediately. Chief Tim Charbonneau recommended that safety protocol be followed, as a result the school was evacuated within ten minutes.

Because law enforcement takes over command at an emergency scene, school administrators have to follow police protocol. Because of the nature of the threat, no one was permitted to use radios or cell phones, making immediate communication impossible. Because those devices could be used to detonate a bomb, extra precaution was used.

Currently, the administration is reviewing surveillance and talking with students and parents to find the root of where this latest threat stems from.

Parents with questions and concerns were addressed on Wednesday evening during a PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) meeting. During the recent incident where students were evacuated, parents were not permitted to pick up their students or bring them food. Some parents were disappointed that they were left in the dark while the incident was unfolding.

Of course, social media hype caused an influx of chaos and opinions left for all to see among parents with strong feelings about the situation. One thing to note is that students are not told if the evacuation is a drill or not. They assume each time, that it is just a drill. If students see an influx of parents rushing to the evacuation site, that could stir unnecessary fear and chaos. Keeping the location of the students hush while the evacuation is occurring is another safety measure.

One topic discussed was the implementation of an SRO (School Resource Officer) at the school. Use of an SRO was passed by the School Board in August of this year. It is up to each town to move forward with the hiring of the SRO. Currently Lancaster is the only school in the district without an officer.

Lancaster Town Manager Ed Samson said, "I fully support having an officer in the school, and we are working on it. We have two officers going through the academy right now, so we're understaffed at the moment."

The school has the funds to support the hiring of an officer however benefits will fall to the town.

Samson added, "There is also difficulty in finding the right person. Not just anyone can do that job. Pat Carr is the perfect fit for the high school, and the new officer at WES is doing a phenomenal job so far. It takes time to find the right fit."

Just over a year ago, Lancaster had an emergency SRO Mitch Doolan. Parents are slated to attend a select board meeting in Lancaster to discuss the situation with the board as well as Samson in the next few weeks.

Lancaster Principal Kerry Sheehan addressed the parents during the Wednesday night meeting.

"One thing I need parents to do, is to put yourself in the shoes of the parent of the child who did this. We need to protect that child's privacy," she said.

Sheehan continued, "You would want me to provide a safe and supportive environment for that child. We cannot tell parents the exact ramifications of discipline on other children. You have to trust that what we have done as a school is appropriate."

As for social media, Sheehan said, "I can sit here and I can read those things on Facebook, and I can bite my tongue because I'm thinking about not only your children, but also that child. We are a learning environment and supportive, and that's what I'm concerned about."

Parents in the meeting approached the subject of implementing a zero tolerance policy. To that, Sheehan disagrees, especially in dealing with a K-8 school.

"I've heard horror stories, as a veteran teacher, of what happens to kids that are all of a sudden expelled in zero tolerance schools, and what happens to them going forward," she said. "I have a study from the American Psychological Association which is an evidence based article."

Sheehan explained that zero tolerance does not work, and said that in fact it is four times more likely to increase poor behavior. Kids become depressed and withdraw. Sheehan gave the example of zero tolerance being too strict for a K-8 school in that if a third grader accidentally brings a Leather Man to school, or is going from parent A to parent B and forgot to take it out of their backpack, that child would be expelled right away.

"We know we don't want to expel a third grader for writing something on the wall," said Sheehan. "High school aged kids are an entirely different issue."

Sheehan said that a high schooler's motivation is vastly different than that of a middle schooler. Speaking of the two incidents last year, Sheehan said, "The two motivating factors last year involved students who were struggling with severe issues. I can't fathom, for the life of me, why a student would do this, to equate that action to those pieces but those were real motivating pieces from the heart and they were true."

A father at the meeting questioned whether or not the students know the ramifications of pulling such a stunt as a deterrent.

Mark Pribbernow, the school's Assistant Principal said, "Discipline starts at home. We also have to look at the development of the child and look into past trauma, etc., and look at what is best for the school as well as the student. We ask you to have faith and trust and more now than ever, patience."

One parent had concerns that the protocol for a parent's ability to pick up their child during an evacuation and communication from the school had changed since the last time a threat was made, which happened last May.

Sheehan said, "We had our hands slapped over letting students leave with parents last year. We are learning what is best each time this happens and each time we iron out the kinks. Remember this is all new to us too."

Sheehan commented that even in her high school days bomb threats were called in however the reactions and protocol have since changed dramatically.

The plan moving forward is to have the student body educated in an age appropriate way as to the severity of these actions. A policy for parents regarding evacuations will also be written up, so that everyone in the school community is on the same page.

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