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Superintendent Tim Porter says people have a right to protest, but the district is standing up for student safety.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Scappoose School District Superintendent Tim Porter, pictured at a school board meeting prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, alerted parents that some students last month were subjected to verbal abuse by protesters on their way to school.Scappoose community members protesting COVID-19 health and safety measures last month accosted students walking to school, school officials say, to the dismay of Scappoose School District Superintendent Tim Porter.

Porter sent a letter to parents on Oct. 29 alerting them that adults were "verbally assaulting" students and even blocking their way to school along sidewalks and crosswalks.

"We had received multiple reports from students, so we thought it best to inform parents, so parents would know what was going on," Porter told the Spotlight.

While the district would not reveal any specifics of the verbal assaults, or the number of students reporting the behavior, Porter said, "There were some protesters on October 18 and some protesters on October 25, as well. It was during those protests that the incidents occurred."

Of the protesters, Porter said, "I saw some of their signs … talking about medical freedom, vaccine mandates and stuff like that."

The Oregon Department of Education has required K-12 educators to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get an approved medical or religious exemption. Most school staff in Scappoose and other districts have been vaccinated.

Complying with statewide rules, the Scappoose School District also requires that masks be worn on school property and during most school activities.

While Scappoose has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Columbia County, according to state data — behind only Columbia City, and comparable to larger communities on Portland's Westside like Hillsboro and Forest Grove — the county trails neighboring Clatsop, Multnomah and Washington counties on its overall vaccination rate.

Porter said students were targeted by protesters as they walked to school along U.S. Highway 30, signed locally as South Columbia River Highway.

Porter noted that while he believed the majority of the protesters were not partaking in the verbal behavior, "It just happened that we had a few students report to us incidences. We thought families should know."

Asked if the police department was informed, Porter explained, "Yes, but there wasn't anything illegal that occurred. We just wanted parents to know so that if they wanted to take measures, they could."

The Spotlight reached out to the Scappoose Police Department for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

In the letter addressed to families, parents and guardians of students on Oct. 29, Porter wrote, "One of our primary responsibilities as educators is to create an environment where students feel safe and secure. Unfortunately, during recent protests, multiple students have reported experiencing events in which their sense of security was threatened."

Porter's letter noted ways the school district will be supporting students should there be future problems. Each morning, the district will have educators outside welcoming students to school in a positive manner.

The district also says counselors and social workers will be available at each school should a student need to talk with a trusted adult.

Porter encourages parents to take time every day to have a conversation with their children about their day, and to let their kids know there is help and support available if they need it.

His letter also suggested parents work with other parents to establish walking groups for students.

Porter was careful to point out that he has nothing against people exercising their right to free speech.

"I want to make sure that it's clear that they (protesters) have every right to be doing what they were doing, in protesting these vaccine mandates or medical freedom," Porter said. "They didn't do anything illegal, they weren't on our property, they were peacefully protesting."

Protests have continued into early November, but the district has not reported any more verbal incidents.

Porter's letter concluded: "No matter the distraction or disruption, we want you to know that our educators are here to support your child's social, emotional and academic success."

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