Public forum held two days after student arrested for threatening middle school peers

Woodburn School District held its second public safety forum May 23 to address issues raised by the school shooting hoax and panic in February. About 60 parents attended to learn about the district's emergency procedures and safety infrastructure.

In February, a threat made by a student on social media led to a panic among parents, who rushed to Woodburn schools and took their kids home. The district had notified parents about the incident via auto dialer, social media and letters home, but parents later said they were confused by the messages and claimed the district had not given them enough information.

By coincidence, another incident took place on May 21, just two days before the second safety meeting, when a 13-year-old French Prairie Middle School student was arrested for allegedly making threats against several students on Snapchat. The district informed the parents of the students involved on Monday, but did not send out a campus-wide alert.

Superintendent Chuck Ransom was joined by Woodburn School Board Chairwoman Linda Reeves, board directors Anthony Medina and Linda Johnston, Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris and Deputy Chief Marty Pilcher during the forum.

Ransom gave a presentation detailing the steps the school takes to identify and respond to an emergency, the district's ongoing efforts to improve security, and how the school will improve communication with parents.

Ransom explained the district's Standard Response Protocol (SRP), which is a standardized step-by-step guide to emergency response for everything from threats of violence to natural disasters. The program was created by John-Michael Keyes and Ellen Keyes, whose daughter was murdered by a gunman at a Colorado high school in 2006.

The SRP program uses easy-to-remember titles and visual cues so that even young children can remember the actions to take in an emergency. One of the most common times that SRP is used is during lockout situations, according to Ferraris. Lockouts occur when a possible threat is identified outside of a school campus, like police activity nearby. Students are brought inside and doors are locked.

Ransom asked the audience whether they had heard of the SRP program, and only a handful of the 60 or so parents raised their hands. Ransom has told the Independent in a previous interview that one of the biggest challenges the district faces in emergencies is that parents are not informed about the scope of security precautions already in place at schools. Parents rushing to pick up their kids poses a hazard during an actual emergency because they could get in the way of emergency personnel.

Ferraris talked about the school resource officers assigned to the Woodburn School District. Ferraris previously worked as head of SRO programs for Portland and Salem-Keizer public schools. The two SROs assigned to WSD, detectives Jacob Stout and Jorge Gaspar, are trained in state and national programs. They conduct investigations of student-related crimes, and maintain a uniformed presence at district schools to deter crime and violence.

The school district is also seeking to implement further security measures at schools through the bond that was passed three years ago. The district will construct secure entrances at all schools, install electronically locking doors that can be triggered by entering a code into a phone line or by text, and move to electronic check-in systems to replace signing in school visitors on paper.

Ferraris stressed the importance of staff and students using ID cards, a system the school currently has in place. The cards not only help account for students and staff during an emergency, they provide a visual way for police officers to identify who is supposed to be at the school and who is a possible stranger, Ferraris said.

The district has also hired a full-time staff member for its communication team. Former Texas journalist Ricardo Vasquez will begin work as communications and community outreach coordinator for the district starting June 4.

Parents gave feedback during a question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting. Several were angry that they had not been informed by the district about the incident on Monday, and only heard about the arrest in the media.

"None of these protocol were followed, it is Wednesday and nothing has been explained," one parent said.

Ransom said that he had informed the parents of the students involved, but did not feel that it was appropriate to inform the parent population in general because the threat was only directed at specific students and not the school as a whole.

The common message from parents was that they felt like there was a gap in communication between the district and parents, and that parents wanted to hear about such incidents from the school before they broke in the news media.

Patrick Evans



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