Schools ‘shelter in place’ after bear sightings

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“Shelter-in-place” orders for Hope Highlands Middle School and Orchard Farms Elementary School were issued “out of an abundance of caution” on Monday after black bears were seen on school grounds and in a local neighborhood, according to Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse.

The superintendent said the order – which involves a “whole different protocol” than a lockdown, and allows for free movement within the school – was first issued for Hope Highlands after a bear was observed outside the school in the morning. A subsequent bear sighting on Scituate Avenue led to the Orchard Farms order, she said.

“It was just so kids weren’t going inside, people weren’t going in and out,” she said.

Nota-Masse said the district has encountered similar situations in the past, and plans are in place to deal with such circumstances.

“We’ve had bobcats, we’ve had other animals … We just use the same safety protocols that we’d normally use,” she said. “We’re prepared for it.”

Monday’s sightings are just the latest from the current season, as black bears have been spotted in residential areas across the state in recent weeks.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has urged residents to take steps to eliminate backyard food sources for the bears to prevent them from becoming a nuisance in local neighborhoods.

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