Answering school safety concerns
Could it happen here, in Prineville, Oregon, — a school shooting like the recent one in Florida?
The chatter on social media reveals that the locals believe it could happen here, and many are planning to attend the Crook County School District board meeting on Monday evening to ask as a group for school safety measures to be put in place.
But what many residents may not realize is that numerous school safety measures are already in place — thanks to financial help from the 2013 school bond.
"The school shooting in Parkland, Florida, has created a lot of questions from communities all over the place as to what do our local schools do," said Leland Bliss, the school district facilities and safety supervisor. "I just want to let the public know that we have made a lot of improvements, especially with the past bond."
CCSD Superintendent Duane Yecha and CCSD Director of Business and Finance Anna Logan worked with Bliss recently to create a list of school district safety procedures and protocols.
"The school district has made significant progress with structural and procedural safety improvements in the last five to seven years, but more work needs to be completed. Recent upgrades to schools have increased security and limited access to secure areas," Yecha stated, thanking the school board and community for supporting these improvements.
All district schools have one primary access point, which is the only door that they generally let the public access. The other doors are locked, and no one is allowed to go in and out of those doors except someone who has either an approved key or key card.
The two elementary schools in Prineville as well as the middle, high and alternative schools all have secured entryways — vestibules.
"Once you enter the main entryway to the school, you cannot access the main part of the school until you have checked in at the office," Bliss explained.
Secured entryways in the smaller schools in Powell Butte, Brothers and Paulina are being reviewed, he pointed out.
The storefronts in the schools have been updated to include improved glass in the entryways, and gates and fencing have been improved to help secure the outside areas.
They have updated paging systems and radios so that they have well-established communications throughout buildings.
All school staff are required by policy to wear school district identification while they're inside the buildings, and schools have Card Access readers, eliminating the need for metal exterior door keys.
"The board approved a project to improve the locking system on our classroom doors. We started that before the Parkland incident, and we're nearing completion, so all of the schools in town will have upgraded locks," Bliss said. "We can lock them from inside, so teachers don't have to walk out into the hallway to lock their door if there's a threat."
Additionally, the district monitors its facilities with cameras and security systems.
"We have the support of the local law enforcement agencies, and we do see a presence of police officers in our buildings," Bliss said.
Yecha thanked local law enforcement for being so responsive to safety issues and for auditing school security protocols and safety procedures.
"We appreciate the expertise and support from Chief Cummins and Sheriff Gautney and their departments," he said, adding that the district's regional partner in Central Oregon is the Safe Schools Alliance.
All schools are required to complete random emergency drills.
"I don't want to get into what and how often because that's more or less confidential to us, but we do them, and we actually exceed what the state ORS (Oregon Revised Statutes) requires us to do for emergency drills," Bliss said.
School staff have all been trained in emergency procedures, and staff then trains the students and receive refresher training courses.
"We evaluate security daily," Bliss said. "Whenever I'm in the buildings, I'm always looking for doors that might get propped open, that kind of thing. I'm looking for security and safety issues. When we have them, we want people to report them, and we correct them immediately."
Yecha said that making students feel connected to school is an important board and community goal, and Logan pointed out that in addition to these safety measures, the board makes funding decisions to support those goals.
"Numerous staff has been hired and a number of programs have been implemented to keep students engaged and feeling personally connected to school," Yecha said.
For example, the district has added a counselor, after-school programs including free food, reduced athletic participation fees, and has eliminated all class fees to keep electives from being a financial barrier. The district has added an art teacher, added a dropout coordinator, remodeled a building for Pioneer students, remodeled other school buildings, added a middle school alternative program, and invested in AVID.
The board is also considering funding for additional disciplinary and counseling staff if the budget for next year can support those costs.
Additionally, Yecha noted that the school district is a partner with the community in the mental health of all patrons.
"Early warning signs of mental health issues need to be addressed and interventions provided in conjunction with our community partners," he said.
The school district will consider safety and security issues, but budget time allows them to financially plan for them.
"This is not a new topic for us," Yecha said. "Our past discussions and decisions have contributed to the improvements we have implemented so far."