WEST GARDINER — The superintendent of Regional School Unit 11 says school security procedures weren’t followed in a lockdown at Helen Thompson School last week, but will be in the future.
Principal Lynn Izzi placed the school on lockdown on Wednesday morning after a staff member told her a person with a handgun was in the building.
Izzi went looking for the person and learned that she was a Maine State Police trooper who was off duty. After seeing the trooper’s badge, Izzi lifted the lockdown. She sent a letter home to parents and guardians that day to notify them of the incident.
What the RSU 11 security plan calls for, however, is for a principal to remain in the office and call police, which Izzi did not do.
“She knows that is not protocol, that she should have stayed in the office and called 911, and she understands that that should not have occurred. And in the future that will not happen again,” Superintendent Pat Hopkins said. “To Lynn’s defense, in the heat of the moment, she was reacting and trying to make sure that the students in the building were safe.”
Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said the trooper often goes to that school because she has a child or grandchild there. She was wearing a badge, but not in a readily visible location.
“I think there was an assumption on the trooper’s part that school administrators knew they were a police officer, and apparently that was not the case,” McCausland said.
McCausland said state troopers are expected to be armed when they visit a school, whether on or off duty.
They are encouraged to become familiar with the schools in their patrol area, and troopers visited schools more than 900 times on official business last year. Even when on duty, state troopers may or may not be in uniform, especially if they are detectives, McCausland said.
Hopkins said other than Izzi going after the person instead of calling 911, school staff followed all security procedures. The building secretary buzzed the trooper into the building and had her sign in, but no one saw her badge or weapon until she left the office.
RSU 11 building administrators are supposed to perform lockdown drills at their schools at least twice a year. In the fall, Hopkins and Gardiner Police Chief James Toman visited some, but not all, of the district’s schools and had them complete a lockdown drill, then talked about what had or had not happened as intended.
Hopkins said Izzi and the district’s school resource officer reviewed last week’s lockdown in a similar process, and they’ll take what they’ve learned from each review to make sure everyone knows the procedures to follow in the future.