PORTLAND — The terrorizing charge against a Freeport Middle School teacher for a classroom comment about shooting an M-16 will be dismissed if he avoids criminal conduct for the next 60 days.

David Mason, 59, pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor offense in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court on Monday. Mason was issued a court summons on Feb. 14 for making the comment during a seventh-grade social studies class the previous week.

Parents told the Portland Press Herald that Mason made a statement about shooting students on the roof with an M-16. John Richardson, Mason’s lawyer, disputed that statement as reported but would not say exactly what was said. Assistant District Attorney Michael Madigan said that Mason said something like, “I’m going to go on the roof with an M-16 and start shooting.”

Mason will spend the next academic year working on curriculum in the superintendent’s office and may retire after that, Richardson said after the brief court proceeding. Mason declined to comment for this article.

Richardson said Mason fears that a dumb remark made in frustration will overshadow the achievements of a 30-year teaching career.

“It was an inartful attempt to gain their attention so they would focus on the moment,” Richardson said.

The terrorizing charge against Mason is a class D offense, the second-lowest level. It carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. One element of the crime is that the person to whom the threat is directed has a reasonable fear that the act will be committed.

Richardson said that he and Mason were very confident that they would have prevailed at trial but that the negotiated agreement with the prosecution was the prudent course. Richardson said it was their belief that no reasonable child would have considered Mason’s statement seriously.

Madigan disagreed, saying all he would have had to do was put one student on the stand who said he or she was frightened. He said some students said Mason would never hurt them, some said his remark was a joke and some were scared.

“If one child is scared, that’s enough. And that’s unacceptable,” Madigan said.

The exact wording of Mason’s statement doesn’t really matter because any remark made in a classroom about shooting on a school roof is inappropriate, said Jack Matheson, the father of one of the social studies students.

“The bottom line is if kids are in class with a teacher, they should feel safe,” Matheson said. “It sounds like in this case some of the kids — not all of them — didn’t feel safe.”

But another father, Paul Lowe, said that common sense may have been lost because of a politically correct environment.

“Maybe this guy shouldn’t have said this. It was a poor choice of words. Take him aside and say, ‘Hey you shouldn’t have said that,'” Lowe said. “Sometimes even as parents, we all say things we don’t mean: ‘I’m going to knock your head off.’ I’m not actually going to do that.”

Regional School Unit 5 officials began investigation the allegations after learning that a teacher may have made an inappropriate, threatening statement to students. Mason was put on paid administrative leave Feb. 9.

Superintendent Shannon Welsh said Mason has not worked in the classroom since then. She said he has been based in the central office writing social studies curriculum since the spring.

“He’s hasn’t worked with kids,” she said.

 

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