BAR HARBOR — Eleven Mount Desert Island High School students spoke of their concerns, their fears and their hopes at a forum on school safety Tuesday night in the school’s auditorium.
It was prompted by the recent mass shooting at a high school in Florida. Nearly 150 people attended the forum, including parents, teachers, school administrators and board members, and law enforcement officers.
Student Ashley Graves said that, aside from her home, school is where she has always felt safest.
“In light of recent events, that feeling of security, of safety, is slowly going away,” she said. “The music department is my home; it’s the place where I feel most comfortable being me. In the past couple of weeks, that has turned into the place where I feel the most unsafe.”
Another student, Mackenzie Miller, agreed.
“At any point, if anyone were to come in there, there are a hundred kids, there’s nowhere to hide, there’s nowhere to run. So, we need to figure out something to do with that room immediately.”
Emily Homer, describing herself as “a music kid,” said the music room is important to her.
“And it’s just kind of stressful to me that no action has been taken until something has happened,” she said.
Students asked school officials how soon something would be done to make the music room and the high school in general more secure.
“This has my full attention, and it’s going to be probably the most important thing I do in the next days, weeks and months,” Superintendent Marc Gousse said.
“Part of me wants to be able to reassure you that tomorrow this is going to happen in the music room,” he continued. “I don’t have that answer for you, and the last thing I want to do is create a situation where the school you love is changed forever.”
Gousse assured the students and others at the forum that their concerns are being heard and taken seriously, and that ways will be found to increase safety and security.
High school student Nayan Sawyer said that whatever measures are put in place should be as unobtrusive as possible.
“I think we need to make changes, but overreaction often causes more problems than thinking carefully and responsibly about what changes we’re going to make,” he said.
Some high school students plan to join the nationwide school walkout on March 14 to protest gun violence in schools.
Student Cody Modeen said, “Whether we’re going hunting during hunting season or walking out under protest on the 14th, it’s important to remember that we all are one community and should respect each other’s views.”
Irene Choi acknowledged that she and other students are afraid.
“But we are not afraid to stand up for what we believe in,” she said. “If there is someone who feels like they are alone, who feels like they are going to be attacked … I want them to know that I will be there for you; I will stand up for you. And these wonderful [other students] will also stand up for you.”
Gousse was asked his opinion on the idea of arming teachers.
“I’m a hundred percent opposed to that,” he said, drawing applause. “It goes against every fiber of my body. I think it’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. I don’t think it’s the answer.
“I think the answer comes down to relationship, dialog, community, tolerance, respect and empathy. Those are the pieces that will carry the day.”
High school teacher Bo Greene spoke about people who, over the last couple of weeks, have used social media to harshly criticize and belittle MDI High students for protesting gun violence.
“I have read a lot of things that are really shocking from people in our community on social media,” she said. “Some of the comments have been really frightening, the things they have said to these kids and about these kids.”
Greene noted that some of the critics claim that students who protest gun violence have been brainwashed by adults.
“They are not brainwashed. And it is our responsibility to stand up when we hear these negative things. These kids are genuine, and they’re doing it not because anyone is telling them to do it.”
Gousse said in his closing remarks that he is committed to holding more community forums on school safety.
“And I hope that when we continue the conversations, we can bring some answers to some of your questions, some recommendations. But I hope we don’t lose the momentum that we have here.”