Secretary-receptionist Jenny Rogers at Mount Desert Island High School is ready to greet visitors and buzz them in. ISLANDER PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Schools strengthen security measures

BAR HARBOR — A complacent attitude of “it can’t happen here” when it comes to school security gives school administrators chills, said Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS).

“There’s a sense of safety and security when you’re in a smaller community,” he said. “But if you look at some of the things that have unfolded across our country, they haven’t all been in large urban settings.”

A secure check-in area was installed at Mount Desert Island High School prior to the start of this school year. ISLANDER PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Over the past year, several MDIRSS schools have implemented new security measures. Prior to the start of school this fall at MDI High School, glass walls were installed in the lobby outside the main office to create a secure reception area. All of the outer doors are locked except for the one that leads into that new space. Visitors must stop at the reception desk, sign in, get a visitor pass and then be buzzed into the lobby by a staff member in the main office.

“Nobody has really complained about it; they understand why we have it,” secretary-receptionist Jenny Rogers said.

She said she usually calls the teacher or administrator that the visitor is coming to see to let them know they are on the way.

Principal Matt Haney said it cost about $15,000 to install the new, secure reception area and two cameras to monitor that area and the entrance door. There are no cameras anywhere else in the high school. Cameras that were mounted on the exterior of the school building a few years ago monitor the parking lots.

The elementary schools all have some version of a system that requires visitors to sign in at the main office and then be buzzed in to the front hallway.

Several of the schools were built with vestibules between the outer doors and inner doors at the main entrance. Gousse said the vestibules were probably designed to keep help keep the cold out, but they have made it easier to implement security measures such as the buzz-in systems.

Making schools more secure without restricting access to people who have a legitimate reason for being there is a delicate balance, according to Gousse.

“One of the best things about our schools is that parents and others in the community can come into them,” he said. “We don’t want to tell people they can’t visit. But we can’t have people just indiscriminately walk in.”

Gousse acknowledged that the security systems that have been put in place do not guarantee safety.

“Let’s be honest; these systems are not always going to prevent bad people from doing bad things, but they can buy us time if we need to have first responders come. And buying time saves lives.”

Each of the MDIRSS schools has its own crisis response plan. Gousse said three school administrators are working with Dick Bishop, who recently retired as chief deputy in the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, “to create a draft plan for the whole district that will be consistent across all of the schools.”

High school safety lights

Motion-activated lights have been installed along the sidewalk at the parking lot in front of the school to improve safety. That area was previously quite dark at night, and it was hard to see where the curb is or whether there were any obstacles in the way.

But Haney said those lights have proved to be inadequate and they are not in the right place to do much good. New lights are to be installed, but that might not happen until the ground thaws in the spring. Haney said that, like the existing motion-activated lights, the new ones will be night-sky friendly.


Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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