OLD TOWN — School threats have been circulating across the state in the past month. Maine school experts are discussing extra steps to keep students safe mentally and physically.
On Sept. 29, a statement written on the girls’ bathroom wall at Old Town High School prompted school officials to close the facility the next day.
The school opened on Oct. 1 with a police presence.
“We take the safety of our students first very seriously,” said David Walker, superintendent of RSU 34. “We need to be vigilant in our continued efforts to keep all students safe.”
Several other potential threats were made at schools across the state.
But what is triggering these school threats?
“Kids are on their screens way more. It’s harder for parents and caregivers to ascertain the screen time,” said Chris McLaughlin, associate vice president of Northern Light Acadia Hospital. “Is this screen time school-related, or is this behavioral health or health care related? “
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children’s hospitals, psychiatrists and pediatricians declared a national state of emergency calling all policymakers to act promptly to address the mental health crisis in adolescents and children.
McLaughlin said it’s been a challenging and arduous year for students facing the sudden transition to remote learning amidst the pandemic.
“Sources of support have been harder for kids to access,” said McLaughlin. “There has been data from last year that showed that 61% of adolescents say they felt they are more cut off from their sources of support.”
Jonathan Shapiro is the director of the Maine School Safety Center within the Department of Education.
He said having a positive school culture can reduce the likelihood of violence and aggression among students.
“The Maine School Safety Center and the DOE. are certainly providing resources at this time. They are doing an excellent job,” said Shapiro.
“There are mental health stressors for both young people and adults during this difficult time. Also having great relationships with everyone in their community, making sure there’s a sense of trust and making sure there is a good flow of communication,” he said.
Shapiro stresses schools are one of the safest places for students to be.