Cape Elizabeth threats prompt new look at school security

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CAPE ELIZABETH — School officials hope to improve security and communications following a lockdown last week and a bomb threat Tuesday.

The School Board and Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeau met Tuesday night to discuss the two incidents and talk with parents. Moving forward, they said, the district’s emergency management team will be reviewing and changing security measures and procedures.

Pond Cove Elementary School and Cape Elizabeth Middle School were evacuated Tuesday morning after a bomb threat was called in to the elementary school just after 9:15 a.m. The students from the two schools were brought to the high school for shelter while police and bomb-sniffing dogs searched the schools.

Middle and high school students were dismissed at 12:15 p.m. and elementary school students at 1:15 p.m. The high school was checked by police and canine units after all students had left.

The incident came less than a week after a man entered all three schools. The elementary and middle schools were locked down on the morning of March 16 after Nathanael Lavallee, 25, entered the schools.

Lavallee, of Philip Road, was arrested at the middle school by Sgt. Kevin Kennedy on a charge of trespassing. 

Police Chief Neil Williams on March 23 said the two incidents were not related.

Nadeau held a meeting March 17 in addition to the one March 22, but some parents said communication was insufficient.

“I think the communication for last week’s event was lousy,” Jennifer Pollick said. 

Nadeau on Tuesday said communication depends on the type and seriousness of the incident. She said sometimes it’s not possible to divulge a lot of information right away.

“We gauge our communications to the situation we’re dealing with, but our first priority in any situation is the safety of the children,” she said, adding it can be “a difficult balance to strike.”

Nadeau sent an email to parents March 21 about the March 16 incident and why communication took “so long” and was “so vague.” She said the School Department’s goal was to “provide general information to families about the nature of the incident and to communicate that everyone was safe.”

Nadeau at Tuesday’s meeting said the department is looking at how it can better use its website and social media to disseminate information. School Board member John Voltz suggested that communications give parents more guidance, so they know what to do or where to look for updates.

Security, especially regarding unwanted people entering the schools, was discussed at length Tuesday night. Parent Ken Brown, who said he’s thinking of removing his daughter from Pond Cove, said staff need to be better trained for emergency situations.

“Did they do their jobs? Yes,” he said. “Was there more luck than skill? You can go back and forth on that.”

Pollick agreed that luck played a role in last week’s incident.

“I think they fumbled last week and got lucky,” she said. “We should be grateful for Nathanael Lavallee because he opened our eyes to some serious security issues.”

Facilities Manager Greg Marles on Tuesday said the School Department is always looking at improving and replacing doors; Lavallee entered the middle school by breaking in through a back door. Marles revealed to parents that Lavallee actually broke through a new door that had a “mechanical failure.”

Nadeau also addressed concerns about people coming in through the front door while students are entering the school in the morning. She said the elementary and middle school front doors are locked all day, except in the morning, and visitors must use a buzzer system to be allowed in.

Now the schools are locked in the morning as well, and parents have been asked to say goodbye outside.

High school Principal Jeff Shedd said the front door of the high school – which  doesn’t have a buzzer – is always unlocked. He admitted it would be possible for an unwanted person to slip in with students in the morning.

“There are undoubtedly people who are missed at that time,” he said.

Nadeau said if parents or students “see something, say something.”

Williams said two people called 911 the morning of March 16 with concerns about Lavallee. They were neighbors of Lavallee who told police he had approached them to say he was going to the schools.

Police found Lavallee walking along Route 77, but he said he was going to a convenience store. Williams said police officers had no reason to take any further action.

Parents at the meeting Tuesday night said the bomb threat incident was handled well.

“I was in the schools today when it happened, and I can say the response was excellent,” Anna Redding said.

Some parents, as well as School Board members, said their children didn’t even realize there was a bomb threat; most thought it was a fire drill. Pollick said while it was smart to remove the children from the schools, it was dangerous to tell the public where the students were sent.

“They shouldn’t tell the world the procedure for a bomb threat,” she said. “It’s insane to let everyone know the procedures.”

Nadeau said the department’s emergency management team will meet with the School Board on April 12 in executive session to talk about improving security measures.  She said she couldn’t talk about specifics with the public because it’s classified information, but if it creates a budgetary increase, that information will be released.

Williams said police are still investigating the bomb threat and are trying to trace the phone call.

Security changes discussed April 12 will go into effect as soon as possible, Nadeau said.

 Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgarder.

The Cape Elizabeth School Board, Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeau, and other school administrators met March 22 to discuss a recent lockdown and bomb threat at the schools.

A dozen or so parents and community members attended a Cape Elizabeth School Board meeting March 22 to hear from Superintendent of Schools Meredith Nadeau on two recent security incidents at the schools.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.