While everyone attending a school safety forum March 15 could agree students should feel safe, how that feeling can be achieved remains elusive. For nearly an hour, students, parents, teachers, law enforcement and interested community members gathered at Belfast Area High School to talk about options.

Substitute teacher Roy Horsey, a former Marine, said he looks to Israel's school security measures as the gold standard of student protection. He said there are physical barriers around schools, substantial fencing to direct foot traffic, armed teachers and “Civil Guards” who accompany children when they participate in trips outside the school.

Horesy said lockdown drills in Belfast are “totally ineffectual” because a shooter could easily break the glass out of doors and unlock them, resulting in a concentrated area of attack. He said even small caliber weapons in the hands of teachers might be enough to deter a shooter.

Bronson Stevens, a college students who graduated from Belfast Area High School, agreed arming teachers is a viable option. He shared a story of a teacher who, during a lockdown drill, positioned himself against the classroom door with a baseball bat in hand. Similarly, during drills in college, Stevens said he and other “big guys” were handed textbooks and the professor said if there was a shooter, they would get him.

Other speakers backed prevention over reactionary plans. Nicole Littrell said, as a mother and an educator, everyone has a right to feel safe.

“I am terrified now at the prospect of what could happen in our schools,” she said, urging those attending to read a document titled “Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America."

" … Arming teachers, with all due respect, is not what I want to happen,” she said.

Student Leo Horchler suggested creating options for students to escape rather than being locked inside classrooms.

“I think that we should not just hide in the corner,” he said, adding he believes in the availability of hunting weapons, but not military-grade weapons intended to kill people.

Restorative Justice Chairman Penny Lynn said change is needed within schools. She said many of the school shooters have been characterized as disenfranchised loners with few friends.

“You have the power and ability to improve the school climate,” she said.

City Councilor Mike Hurley objected to the picture painted by Horsey of Israeli school security. “I'm glad we don't have to protect this place like a fortress,” he said.

Hurley indicated students often know about planned events in advance and encouraged more open communication.

“It's a lot easier to intervene beforehand than when they're coming up the driveway with a rifle,” he said.

Capt. Albert Stevens School Principal Glen Widmer said he, too, is a believer in prevention.

“If we're hopeful, we can make changes in our community,” he said.

Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton spoke of the differences in the school environment. While it was commonplace in the '70s for students to have guns in vehicles on school grounds and to carry knives, that is no longer the case.

“Society has changed; it's morphed,” he said. “Prevention and the public health approach is huge and a step to decrease the danger in schools and in the community. It's up to the community the level of protection we provide as law enforcement.”

Trafton noted the response of police in Florida who remained outside the school is not the response that should be expected here.

“You don't wait, you go,” he said. “ … Because people are dying. … If the staff and the kids don't feel safe, how are they going to learn?”

Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden confirmed a new school resource officer is being hired for the district.

“The school resource officer will play a huge role in school security,” he said. “We need to make sure we're embedded in the community.”

Democratic Rep. Erin Herbig grew up in Belfast and represents the city in the State House, where she is majority leader. “I come from a hunting family; we all do in Waldo County,” she said.

Herbig said she's received many calls and emails about gun violence, with many differing options on what to do. She said it takes time to make change at the state level but spoke of several proposed bills addressing mental health providers, another that would allow police to seize weapons as a form of community protection when threats are made, and one to authorize $20 million in physical school safety projects such as bullet-proof glass.