School Climate & Safety

Lewiston Schools Plan Reopening; Parents Feel Like Nothing Will Be the Same

By Kendra Caruso, Sun Journal — October 30, 2023 4 min read
People sign "I love you" while gathered at a vigil for the victims of Wednesday's mass shootings, on Oct. 29, 2023, outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.
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It was toward the end of Coach Benjamin Ayer’s youth football team’s practice when he heard what sounded like gun fire in the distance last Wednesday evening. The football field is located near Just-In-Time Recreation, but he did not give the noise much thought initially.

It was not until he arrived at his house, which is a four-minute walk from the bowling alley, that he realized it was, in fact, gunfire he heard. He started receiving a flurry of phone calls from people telling him to stay inside because there was a mass murderer on the loose.

Robert Card had walked into Just-In-Time Recreation just before 7 p.m. and started shooting people, resulting in several deaths. The shooter then went to Schemengees Bar & Grille across town and killed several more people, taking 18 lives total.

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Jess Paquette expresses her support for her city in the wake of Wednesday's mass shootings at a restaurant and bowling alley, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, in Lewiston, Maine. Police continue their manhunt for the suspect. Authorities urged residents to lock themselves in their homes and schools announced closures on Thursday. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Jess Paquette expresses her support for her city in the wake of Wednesday's mass shootings at a restaurant and bowling alley, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, in Lewiston, Maine. Police continue their manhunt for the suspect. Authorities urged residents to lock themselves in their homes and schools announced closures.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Ayer’s children were with him at home but his fiancee was stuck at work not far from Schemengees where she was in lockdown, he said. Once everyone was home and safe, they draped blankets over their front bay window and camped out in the living room until the shelter-in-place order was lifted a couple of days later. He describes driving by the bowling alley now as feeling eerie.

Ayer struggles with being able to tell his young children that he will always be there to protect them now, knowing that he cannot be with them every minute of every day. His kids are still shaken up about the incident, particularly his son, who is nervous about going back to school Tuesday.

Lewiston public schools will reopen Tuesday after being closed Thursday, Friday and Monday. The district is implementing a three-week alternate school schedule. The approach will help students and staff reestablish a routine and allow people to assess their mental wellbeing and grieving, according to information on the district’s website.

Staff will meet at schools Monday to start preparing for students. For the next three weeks, students will be released early on Wednesdays. Usually Wednesdays are professional development days for teachers but that is suspended for now, Superintendent Jake Langlais said at Sunday’s emergency School Committee meeting. Students will be released early this Friday, also.

There will be no pre-K on Wednesday for the next three weeks and no afternoon pre-K this Friday. The Montello after school program and 21st Century program will be canceled this week and district officials will assess when to reopen those programs later.

Class schedules will remain intentionally light this week, with academic engagement slowly increasing each day next week.

One thing that Ayer hoped to see in the school department’s reopening plan was an increased law enforcement presence at schools for the first few days back, he said.

Kasandra Robichaud would like to see the school form a safety committee or have a meeting where parents can get answers to questions, she said. She has a daughter in Lewiston Middle School and a daughter in Lewiston High School.

Robichaud already had concerns about school safety before this, as did Ayer. The weekend before the shooting, high school officials were dealing with a threat of violence against the school that was posted online. That threat was found to be not credible, coming from a 10-year-old in the Midwest.

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People linger after a vigil for the victims of Wednesday's mass shootings, on Oct. 29, 2023, outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.
People linger after a vigil for the victims of the Oct. 25 mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine. The vigil took place on Oct. 29, 2023, outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston.
Matt Rourke/AP

The shootings have Auburn resident Chelsea Tuplin looking into bullet-proof liners for her children’s backpacks, she said. Her twin boys attend Auburn schools and her teenage son attends Oak Hill High School in Wales. One of her twin sons is afraid to go back to school and Tuplin feels like there is little she can do herself to make him feel better.

Bulletproof gear is expensive and she thinks it should be funded by the government if there will be no actions on a legislative level or attempts to better address mental health issues to prevent these types of events, she said.

As someone who owns and carries a firearm, she thinks there needs to be better legislation around gun ownership and people need access to the mental health services they need so they do not reach the point of harming others, Tuplin said.

Robichaud is deciding to be hopeful and she is praying that the school will have enough supports in place and a safety plan that is greater than the one that was in place before the shooting as students return, she said.

Her family is getting most of its mental health help from its family counselor and its church group, she said. The biggest difficulty explaining the situation to her children is trying to tell them why it happened. So, she has decided to use the situation as a teachable moment, instilling in them the importance of mental health.

Robichaud thinks the community can get back the sense of safety and security it felt before the shooting but that requires everyone in the community coming together to implement a safety plan, she said.

“People are scared right now and people were scared before ... but people are very scared now,” Robichaud said. “So, I hope that we will be able to come together as a community and build some really strong safety supports for our community.”

But Ayer and Tuplin do not think the community will ever feel the same as it did before the shootings.

Superintendent Jake Langlais thinks that the community could get to a “new normal” but it will never go back to how it was before the shootings, he said. He does think the community can reach a point in which people are not always thinking about the shootings, but the community is fundamentally different.

“I think everybody in our community will be changed forever by this,” he said.

There will be no classes at Poland Regional High School on Monday, but the school will be open from noon to 2 p.m. for students and families. There will be hot meals and counselors on site for students. Normal school schedule will resume on Tuesday.

Copyright (c) 2023, the Sun Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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