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School board plans an April 5 meeting to discuss funding for school safety measures

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Parents showed up a the latest Crook County School Board meeting to discuss school safety concerns.

A month after 17 people died in a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, parents of Crook County students took the school safety issue to the school board during a meeting Monday evening.

"I know many of you are concerned, as I am, about our recent tragedies with regards to school shootings and violence," said Crook County School District Superintendent Duane Yecha before opening the floor for public comments.

He noted that a 2013 bond measure that funded the construction of Barnes Butte Elementary also enabled the district to make many safety improvements in the buildings. But, Yecha said that more work needs to be done.

"I set aside four areas in my thinking that are important to move forward on school improvement and the safety and security agenda," Yecha said.

Those four areas include: building security and limiting access; mental health and threat assessment; improving relationships and communications with students; and encouraging students to feel more connected to school.

Board Chairman Doug Smith echoed Yecha's concern.

"We do take school security very, very seriously," Smith said, pointing out that all five board members either have children, grandchildren, or family members as teachers in the Crook County School District. "We care about school safety."

Local resident Anthony Puckett was the first to take the floor, representing Crook County 3 Percent, a patriot organization formed for the purpose of bringing like-minded people together to serve the community. The group will put on a free anti-active shooter training for teachers in Prineville sometime in May. TNT Martial Arts will teach the workshop.

Prineville resident Mandi Puckett spoke about the School Safety Proposal on behalf of several concerned parents. She has three children and works as a certified prevention specialist and executive director for the Children Learning Through Education and Research Alliance, a statewide nonprofit organization located in Redmond that provides substance use prevention education in schools across Oregon.

"The School Safety Proposal Committee is a diverse group of parents and school staff and law enforcement who support the three-legged stool's multi-faceted approach to school safety, which includes prevention, treatment and enforcement," she said.

The proposal was developed in 2013 after the Sandy Hook tragedy and was signed in support by local, state and federal leaders, including Oregon Congressman Greg Walden.

She and Brian Hemphill, who has two children in Crook County schools, pointed out strengths and weaknesses of school safety locally.

They suggested adding bulletproof glass, metal detectors, and more law enforcement officers in schools. They recommended replacing some fire drills with lockdown and active-shooter drills and enforcing the one main access policy. Hemphill pointed out that many of the surveillance cameras are only used for review purposes but should instead be monitored regularly for suspicious activity. Adding law enforcement to school campuses is their first choice for additional safety measures.

Mandi Puckett said that although the students she talked to said they felt safe, they did question who would protect them if someone did get inside their building.

"As each school's property is unique in its structure and layout, we request that Crook County School Board please adopt as many school safety measures as possible, including but not limited to what is outlined in this School Safety Proposal here, to meet the needs of each individual school," she said.

Aaron Mapes, the father of CCSD children, thanked the board for their proactive stance on school safety. He applauded the single-access point design of the in-town schools but pointed out that he recently witnessed a door open that should not have been.

"Policies are only as effective as those that are actually followed," Mapes said. "Who makes sure that the policies are followed and enforced?"

He also encouraged students to be aware of potential threats.

"Pay attention to social media. Do not be afraid to speak if you see something that you're concerned about," Mapes said.

Brett Nelson, a lifetime Prineville resident with a middle school student, said, "We go to work every day, are we assured that we are safe? That is the picture we have to paint for the staff."

Finally, Yvette Gaynor, who has two children at Powell Butte Community Charter School, spoke on behalf of a group of parents and school staff who came up with a list of safety concerns.

For example, the campus does not have a single secure entry, it lacks fencing around the entire perimeter, and not all modular buildings have an emergency exit, nor do they have peepholes in the doors. Additionally, Gaynor pointed out that the emergency drills are ineffective, and the cafeteria personnel would not know what to do if there was an emergency during the lunch hour.

She recommended some changes to the surveillance cameras, bulletproof glass, and having law enforcement present for large gatherings.

The board chairman pointed out that the charter school rents the campus from the school district for $1 a year.

"We're trying to determine whose responsibility it is and figure out how to fund it. We want to be part of the solution but have to figure out where the money will come from," Smith said.

The board will hold a special public board meeting beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 5 at the district office to review the lists from administrators, students, parents, board members and the district safety supervisor.

"We'll bring all those together and have a meeting dedicated to what should we fund for next year as far as school safety," Smith said. "There is a limit to what we can afford."

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