BAR HARBOR — At least one Mount Desert Island High School student said at a forum on school safety in early March that the school should set up an anonymous tip line so that students could report suspicious activity or individuals about whom they have concerns.
At a follow-up forum last Thursday at the high school, Principal Matt Haney announced that as of this week, the school will have “a tip line source for both desktop and a mobile app that will allow students or anybody to anonymously give information, whether it’s about school safety or bullying.”
He said that when someone posts a tip, the system will immediately alert him, Dean of Students Ian Braun, School Resource Officer Tim Bland and perhaps the guidance office, as well.
“It’s like sending a text message; it’s that instantaneous,” Haney said.
The school has contracted with a company called “Anonymous Alert” to provide the service for about $700 a year.
About 45 people attended last week’s school safety forum. Nearly half of those were administrators, teachers or board members from the high school and other MDIRSS schools. The rest were mostly students and parents.
At the forum two months ago, several high school students said that in the wake of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., they no longer felt safe at school. Some said they felt especially vulnerable in the band room.
Haney said at last week’s forum that, over the summer, the school plans to make a number of changes to improve security, including installing deadbolt locks on all of the building’s interior doors and shades on the band room’s large vertical windows. The shades will cost about $2,000, which will come out of the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
“We could do it much cheaper than that immediately with the money we have right now, but that’s not the way to do things,” Haney said.
MDIRSS Superintendent Marc Gousse said the idea of frosting the bottom third of the windows had been considered but rejected in favor of shades.
Sarah Knox, a high school freshman, said she spends nearly all of her free time in the band room, which is where last week’s safety forum was held, and that it is the place in the school where she feels the safest.
“When I get here, I know there are like 50 people in the room who care about me,” she said. “Even though there have been many things going on in the world, I can still come here and have a group of people I can talk to.
“I think some of the ways that we’re talking about changing this space, like frosting over the windows, kind of scares me,” she continued.
Knox explained that, while she understands that physical safety is important, so is “emotional safety.”
“I want to make sure we are still being human and not trying to turn this into – maybe ‘prison’ is too strong a word,” she said. “But I know that sometimes when rules get tougher and freedoms get taken away, I start to feel a little less safe, as if maybe I’m not trusted as much. Or we take so many precautions that [a potential threat] starts to feel more real than it actually is.”
Gousse said the goal is to balance “the freedoms and the access [to schools] with the expectations to be safe.” He said it’s good that people speak up when they feel the pendulum has swung too far in either direction.
Bland, the Bar Harbor police officer who serves as the school resource officer, said he and school administrators have talked with many students about safety and security issues and will continue to do so.
“We don’t want to just react in a bubble as adults,” he said. “We want input from students. There are some things we wouldn’t have thought of that we are considering now because of their input.”
Gousse said various security measures have been implemented in MDIRSS schools and that others are being explored.
“We continue to do assessments of our buildings to figure out where the gaps are in terms of which locks need to be installed, which doors need to be reinforced and which windows might need to be frosted,” he said.
“One of the things we’ve been working toward in all of our schools is a single point of entry,” Gousse said. “We’re trying to balance that with making sure our schools continue to be warm and welcoming places for our communities.”