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New Hampshire Views: Good response to one bad Santa

There are many lessons to be learned from the unfortunate incident at the Hollis Primary School last week when a well-intentioned man posing as Santa Claus caused a near panic.

It happened last Wednesday morning when a local resident decided he would spread a little spontaneous holiday cheer by running around the school dressed as Old Saint Nick, knocking on windows and waving at students.

He then decided to move his act inside. According to interim Superintendent John Moody, the man rang the security buzzer at the school’s front door and was let in by a staffer who mistakenly assumed he was another person who regularly dresses in costume for various school events.

As the man signed in at the main office, it became clear to the staffer he wasn’t the usual performance artist she expected. Sensing fear in the secretary’s reaction, the man apparently thought better of his plan and ran away – causing even further concern inside the building.

The police were called, but by the time they were able to get to the school, the man was gone. As a precaution, outside recesses were canceled, and parents were warned that a strange man dressed as Santa was running around the school.

When he realized the havoc he had caused, the man went to the police, who then determined that “he just thought it would be a cool holiday thing for the kids to see Santa wave through the window.” No charges are pending.

The road to mayhem is paved with good intentions. In today’s world, where school shootings and other violence occur with disquieting regularity, it’s unfathomable how anyone could think for an instant that running around a grammar school in costume, banging on windows and waving is a good idea.

Being stupid isn’t a crime. Last we checked, it wasn’t even a violation. Still, it seems only right that the Santa in question owes the school’s staff and students some sort of restitution as recognition of the consternation he caused.

Pay attention, all you other would-be impromptu school revelers: It is far better to seek permission than beg for forgiveness.

In addition, as Moody pointed out, the incident exposed deficiencies on the school’s side of the equation. Of primary concern was that an unknown individual was allowed inside the school and administrators weren’t promptly notified of the man’s suspicious behavior while outside the building.

Moody moved promptly to address those issues by meeting with staff the next day to review what school procedures weren’t adequately followed. He also plans on meeting with district principals and police after the winter break to further shore up strategies for dealing with such incidences.

Parents can take comfort that Moody is moving quickly and comprehensively to make sure that SAU 41 staff consistently act in ways that enhance the well-being of students.

One lesson of previous school tragedies is that every second counts. The quicker officials can respond to dangerous situations, the more lives can be saved. That means acting well before the full extent of a potential danger is understood. It’s unfortunate that our schools must operate under such conditions, but it’s today’s reality.

“It’s pretty sad we live in a world not that you have to be vigilant and cautious about anything that is out of the ordinary or a little bit strange,” said Hollis Police Lt. Rich Mello. “It’s very sad.”

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