A police security review at Windham High School went awry Thursday morning when one officer unexpectedly ordered a group of students in the cafeteria to get on the floor, something that school officials said is not part of any regular security drill during school hours.

The Windham police officer, one of five conducting a walk-through inspection of the school, told the students in a study group, “This is a drill, this is a drill, please get down,” said Kevin Schofield, Windham’s police chief.

Schofield said the other officers on the walk-through found out what had happened within minutes and told the students that there was no drill, they were not in danger and their study hall shouldn’t have been interrupted.

There were about 50 students and two study hall monitors in the cafeteria at the time, said Chris Howell, the school’s principal.

No one was injured, Schofield said, but some of the students were upset. He said the officers on the scene apologized to the students.

“I’m sorry, and the police officer (who told the students to get down) is sorry that this happened,” said Schofield, who blamed it on a communications mix-up.

A lockdown drill had been scheduled for Thursday morning, Schofield said, but was canceled in consultation with school officials because of two snow days cutting into instructional time this week. He said his department decided instead to do a walk-through with five officers, including the school resource officer, to familiarize themselves with the school and perform checks such as making sure they had keys to locks throughout the building.

But even a lockdown drill, which is more extensive and conducted to make sure emergency measures are put in place, would not have included ordering students to the ground, the chief said. A similar “get down” command would be part of a “full-fledged active-shooter drill,” but Howell said active-shooter drills are not conducted when students are in school and would typically involve only staff and police.

Schofield confirmed that an active-shooter drill would not have occurred during regular school hours, although he said some students could be involved as volunteers.

SUPERINTENDENT EXPLAINS IN EMAIL

Sanford Prince, superintendent of Regional School Unit 14, which includes Windham and Raymond, sent an email about the incident to the school community. He said the school department made the Windham Police Department aware that the drill had been canceled, agreeing instead to have officers conduct a walk-through of the high school so they could familiarize themselves with the building’s layout.

“At roughly 7:40 a.m., members of the Windham Police Department came to the high school to conduct a walk-through. One of the officers took it upon himself to enter the cafeteria, telling students that this was a drill and that they should get down,” Prince said in his notice to the school community.

“The actions of this officer do not reflect the policies and procedures of Windham High School for any of the drills that we plan or carry out,” he wrote. “The purpose of our drills is to provide students with the tools that they could use in a real emergency. It is not meant in any way to raise the anxiety of our students. Going forward, we will be working with the chief of police to ensure that this type of action does not happen again in any of our drills.”

Prince said the incident was “regrettable,” but it also demonstrates how seriously Windham police take school safety.

Schofield said he would conduct a review to find out “what and where the breakdown in communications happened,” and that he couldn’t rule out disciplinary measures for some of the officers involved. He would not name the officer who told the students to get on the floor because of the possibility that officer could be disciplined.

PRAISE FOR STUDENTS’ CONDUCT

Howell thought the students handled the incident well. He said some were upset, particularly given the focus this week on school shootings, with protests planned around the country. However, he said some of the students told police that they recognized the officers were in the school to help keep them safe and understood that the order to get on the floor was a mistake.

Howell said some Windham students had been planning to walk out Wednesday, in line with nationwide protests taking place one month after the shootings at a Florida high school left 14 students and three staff members dead.

Howell said school administrators had worked with the students organizing a walkout at Windham High, but the student leaders had decided Wednesday to put off the protest to a future date because of snow days Tuesday and Wednesday.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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