Responding to Unscheduled Events

November 6, 2015

Dear MSAD #51 Families,

As many of you know, a written bomb threat was discovered on Thursday at Greely Middle School. After assessing the threat, I decided to evacuate that school.  Students and staff went to the high school and remained there for about an hour until the police gave us the all-clear to return.  Students resumed their regular schedule for the rest of the school day.

I wish to acknowledge the smooth response by students, staff, and administration to this event and thank everyone for their patience and understanding.  I also wish to thank the Cumberland police and fire departments for their quick response and support.

This event has prompted some questions and concerns from families.  Though these kinds of events are (fortunately) infrequent, I think it would be helpful to all families for me to share how we handle these kinds of situations when they arise.

1.  The district has a comprehensive K-12 emergency response plan, which includes additional response plans for each school building, that we use whenever a safety issue may arise.  These plans have specific and time-tested protocols that we use when assessing and responding to an event that may be of concern.  Our local emergency responders have assisted in developing these plans.  For obvious security reasons, these are internal documents only.

2.  Our plan has varying degrees of responses based on the specific concern we are handling at the time.  Our K-12 administrative team is well versed on these plans and the response protocols we have in place.

3.  We have routine safety and fire drills in place that we use with students and staff.  For example, GMS had practiced an evacuation drill two weeks ago which was very helpful in establishing familiar routines for how to respond to an unscheduled evacuation.

4.  We work closely with our emergency response services, including the Cumberland Police department and Fire/EMS services.  We also utilize other local and regional agencies, as needed, depending on the event we are handling.

5.  It should be noted that our first and primary focus is the safety of students and staff at all times. This means that school and district administrators will be busy during the first critical minutes of an event ensuring that plans are being carefully carried out.  Given this focus, communication to parents may be delayed by a short period of time so that we can supervise and complete all initial safety protocols with precision.

6.  Based on the administrative attention to students and staff during the first few minutes of an unscheduled event, we realize that some families and community members may receive information from other sources, such as social media and the press, before the district has had a chance to send out information.  I'm not sure if there is a good solution to this, given the technological age we live in. I think the best thing we can do is to acknowledge that this will most likely occur and ask for your patience and trust that we are carefully handling the situation in the absence of immediate information.

7.  Once we have implemented our initial safety plans, communication from the Superintendent's office will be sent out to all parents of the impacted students.  We will try to do this as quickly as we can.  Our primary communication is through the email list system we maintain.  Please check to make sure your email is up-to-date so you will receive this information and notify your child's school office if changes need to be made.

8.  Initial communications to parents most likely will not have specific information, such as the nature of the threat.  This is for two reasons:  Usually we do not have all the information yet and do not want to put out inaccurate communication.  Second, we do not want to in any way compromise the emergency responders who are handling the event by providing too much public information.

9.  We did hear that at least one email I sent out did not get to some parents until late afternoon, well after it was originally sent.  We are researching why this occurred and working with the internet provider in question to find a solution.

10.  In terms of communication with students after an event has occurred, it depends on the age of the students and the nature of the event.  For example, our middle school enrolls students in grades 4-8, so we avoided any mass communication with all students given the wide age range in that school. We are also reviewing our protocols on communicating with students after an unscheduled event and may make some adjustments.  However, we know that families have varying thresholds as to how much information is comfortable and we rely on parents to make their own judgment as to how to best communicate this kind of information to your children.

I hope this helps in understanding how the district and schools respond to these kinds of situations. Please let either your child's principal or myself know if you have additional questions or thoughts.


Jeff Porter
Superintendent of Schools