The former Longley Elementary School in Lewiston — currently being used for adult education classes — was broken into and vandalized by a group of seven children between the ages of eight and twelve this past Saturday night.
According to Jake Langlais — Lewiston Public Schools Superintendent — all the children involved in the incident are current students in his district.
An announcement released immediately following the incident described how several of the school’s classrooms were completely destroyed.
The release describes the children as “making a mess of several classrooms, tossing items, damaging mannequins used for medical programming, [making] messes in bathrooms, serving areas, hallways, etc.”
“People poured their heart and soul into those spaces, and they were destroyed,” Langlais told the Maine Wire.
“It’s one thing to have things kind of torn up and trashed. You can pick those things up, and you can wash the floor, and you can wipe things down, and you can try to put things back when they were sitting before,” Langlais said. “But you can’t remove the emotional toll of the people that have created these spaces for learning, who care deeply about their students.”
As of now, no definitive connections have been made between the children and the former Longley School. Langlais did, however, mention two things that may have been contributing factors to the children’s decision to attack this particular building.
“There are some that believe there’s one of the parents has an apartment that’s not very far away from that school,” Langlais said. “And some that believe that because of the limited lines of sight on the backside of that building that the kids just found themselves there.”
Langlais stated that the children used a screwdriver “to force open a window” in order to gain access to the lock on the door, which they were then able to disengage and enter the building.
Legal action will be pursued against the children responsible for the destruction, according to Langlais. The Lewiston Police Department (LPD) is still looking into the incident, and no final decisions will be made about specific charges until their investigation is complete.
“We estimate between $20,000 and $40,000 worth of damage, not counting staff time to go into on a weekend and clean up,” Langlais said. “That’s certainly enough to trigger different responses, including legal charges, breaking and entering criminal mischief theft.”
“That’s just my estimation,” Langlais later clarified, “because I’ve seen and I know what did happen. I’ve also watched some video from inside the school that’s not public. So I know the interactions of what all occurred in those spaces, but I don’t know what the charges will actually be.”
In terms of disciplinary action expected to be taken on the part of the school district, Langlais said that “everything is on the table,” but that he “refers to due process” in “these kinds of situations.”
“Once we have the investigation complete,” Langlais said, “students and their parents would be invited to a meeting with me. I have to assess the whole student from what did they present, what are their own unique situations — and it always varies between kids — and then part of my responsibility is to make a determination as to whether or not the school committee would hear [the case].”
Should the school committee ultimately hear these children’s cases, disciplinary action is “entirely up to them.”
“It could be returned to school, it could be community service, it could be suspension of any duration, and they could also be an expulsion potentially,” Langlais said.
When asked, Langlais said that he is inclined to look toward parents when faced with a situation like this involving children so young.
“In situations like this, I like to lean into community and adults whenever possible,” Langlais said.
“Kids between the ages of 8 and 12 really should not be out and about in the downtown area in any way area, unsupervised for hours on end, after dark,” Langlais continued.”I don’t think that these choices mean these kids are bad kids. But if there was an adults around, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have done this.”
This was not the first time that the former Longley Elementary School was the target of vandalism.
In June of last year, four minors were responsible for roughly $100,000 worth of damages.
According to Langlais, the damage done to the school this week was significantly less extensive than last time because “teachers and staff and administration and custodians have been really vigilant about locking doors each day, internal and external.”
“So I think that really limited the amount of damage that we were exposed to, because they couldn’t get into other rooms, even though they tried,” Langlais said.
When asked if he had any thoughts as to why the building found itself subject to two serious attacks of vandalism within such a short period of time, Langlais suggested that the “geography” of the school’s surroundings may be partially to blame.
“The line of sight on the backside of that building is pretty limited because of the geography, and you can see the front from the road really well. And you can’t see the back side of the building hardly at all,” Langlais said. “And beyond that, there’s just a large hill. So it’s not something that has a good line of sight that’s natural.”
Officials are still in the process of cleaning up the destruction, as well as returning lost and stolen property to educators and staff.
All images included in this article were sourced from WGME who originally obtained them from Jake Langlais.