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How Bangor, Portland school districts plan to keep students safe this year

Many Maine students returned to school this week, and school safety is weighing heavy on many parents' minds.

BANGOR, Maine — It's back to the classroom this week for many students across Maine, and with recent events like the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas this past May, which left 19 students and two teachers dead, school safety is weighing heavy on many minds.

“I probably think about it way more often than probably most,” Bangor Superintendent of Schools James Tager said about the safety of his students and staff. 

Before coming to Maine, Tager worked as an educator in Florida. He was in the state when a 19-year-old opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

"It really stuck with me," Tager told NEWS CENTER Maine. "Our number one concern is safety." 

Tager said the Bangor School Department has taken new steps to strengthen school security. 

This summer, the department hired a company to make sure every classroom door at all 11 schools locks properly. It also installed new secure entryways at schools like Abraham Lincoln School and Vine Street School to strengthen the barrier between students and staff and any potential threat. On top of this, the department has adopted new protocols so that everyone knows their part in different emergency situations.

For eighth-grade Bangor social studies teacher Stephen Riitano, school shootings are top of mind.

"I’m only 25, so I’ve grown up in this era that this is what’s happening,” Riitano said. “We have common language with our staff; we have set protocols and procedures, and school is a safe place for students. My classroom is a safe place for students."    

The Bangor Police Department is also prepared to keep students and school staff safe.

“We have active shooter drills every year as part of our mandatory training,” Bangor Police Department Public Information Officer Sgt. Jason McAmbley said. "[In an emergency situation], the first officer is going to get [to school] in under a minute. We’re going to have a dozen officers there in under two minutes.” 

Portland Public Schools is also working on new school safety measures. In an email, PPS Communications Coordinator Tess Nacelewicz said they're in the process of converting building access systems to programmable "key cards" so they can better manage who has access to schools. 

"These are easier to manage to help prevent unauthorized access," Nacelewicz said. "Not all buildings have these systems yet, but we are in the process of upgrading all."

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