West Linn-Wilsonville parents worry about school safety
Stacy Spengler, a West Linn mom, said her freshman daughter was terrified to go to school after the school shooting in Florida just over a month ago. And the worst part is, Spengler couldn't even reassure her daughter that it would never happen at her school.
"How did that kid (in Florida) move through the cracks?" said Spengler during the March 12 West Linn-Wilsonville School Board meeting. "I don't want to stress the school system either because (it's) not the answer, (it's) part of the solution. It can't all fall on (the school system), it's got to be part of the community too."
She wasn't the only parent to voice concerns during the board meeting. Rhonda Gomes was another parent who spoke up. Gomes moved here from Canada four years ago and said her children also fear a shooter might enter their school.
"It's extremely sad to move here and have to worry so much about the safety of our kids," Gomes said.
The handful of parents who spoke to the board all had one thing in common: They want to take a proactive approach and get involved in school safety efforts.
And this is the ultimate goal, at both a statewide and district level: to find ways to ensure school safety while still maintaining a welcoming and safe school environment.
So far, the district received safety feedback from the community in about seven areas: secured entries, safety curriculum and training drills for students, additional School Resource Officers, bullet-proof glass or shelters, mental health, background checks and reporting, and allowing or not allowing teachers to have guns. Many comments made by community members suggested schools add metal detectors, buzzed entryways, locked school perimeters or ID swipe cards.
Currently all district buildings have locked perimeter doors during school hours and visitors are supposed to go to the main office to sign in before entering the hallways. And while Meridian Creek Middle School and Sunset Primary have new state-of-the-art entryways where visitors have to enter through the main office, there is concern around the entryways of other schools in the district. Many parents think a secured entrance with a buzzer and intercom system, or a swipe system, might be a step in the right direction.
"I don't know if that's the answer," said WL-WV Superintendent Kathy Ludwig. "It hasn't demonstrated to be the deterrent often in sadly some mass shootings so the board hasn't formulated a discussion amongst themselves about that (yet)."
As a local initiative, a group, Community Awareness and Unity about Safety Enforcement — C.A.U.S.E — was formed to bring change to WL-WV communities, a few days after the Parkland tragedy occured.
"I was not happy with our community's response to better safety and security and decided to take measures into my own hands by forming a group of community members that share the same safety and security goals for our school district," said C.A.U.S.E organizer Tiffany Love.
She said the district has taken a number of steps to better secure the schools, but community members want to see more being done.
"For example, more resource officers being hired for upper level schools. ... We would also like to see basic security measures being standardized at a higher level," Love said, adding that the group communicates strategies and then relays them to board members and district administrators as suggestions.
Board member Dylan Hydes said that while schools can lock their doors, he doesn't think that will halt the issue of gun violence in schools. He encouraged the parents and community members in the room to keep the pressure on the district and even the state and federal governments by sharing ideas and getting involved with local organizations.
"We have a federal government who will do nothing and a state government who will do almost nothing," Hydes said. "Trying to solve this issue without talking about guns is like trying to solve drunk driving without talking about alcohol. This is a gun issue so keep the pressure on us and keep them on those who can change the laws."
Controlling the environment
Ludwig did say that Bolton and Boeckman Creek primaries, and West Linn High School are on the schedule to have remodeled entryways this summer to mirror a similar style to Wilsonville High School's entryway, where people can only enter through the main office during school hours.
"My freshman year — I am a sophomore now — the school had most doors unlocked at all times. Since this year, they have implemented a locked door policy when school is in session," said WHS sophomore Alyson Johnston, adding that there's been some pushback from students who are slightly late coming back from lunch. "Having all of the doors locked gives me a heightened sense of security at school, and I'm definitely not quite as concerned anymore."
But aside from the structural safety components, Ludwig suggested parents try to reassure their children about what's being done to keep them safe.
"First is talking a lot to their kids about ways we already stay safe and how to talk to their parents if anything's concerning them," said Ludwig, "helping children process through traumatic events and do their best to understand them, and also assure their safety and love for them."
During the board meeting Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Jennifer Spencer-Iiams also introduced several resources for troubled WL-WV students. This included access to the school counseling program, school nurses and connections to outside sources who are available to help students.
"There is a lot more than can be done ... when you look at mental health resources in the state of Oregon compared to other states," said Ludwig, adding that it would be hard to say mental health doesn't play a large role in school shootings.
See something? Say something
The SafeOregon Tip Line, which the district signed up for this school year, is another resource for WL-WV families and staff. This is an anonymous reporting tool used by 910 schools across Oregon where students and parents can alert administration and law enforcement of dangers or threats.
In the last two weeks, the school district saw a rise in tips from one tip since September to about 10.
"It's not uncommon in these kinds of situations for there to be an uptick in reports and then that leads to investigations," Ludwig said. "Sometimes they're redundant reports because multiple people now are feeling, 'I don't want to just assume that someone else is calling.'"
Prior to SafeOregon, Oregon did not have an adequate platform for threat assessment besides dialing 911 for investigation into cases of rumors of bullying, suicide threat, threat to safety, cyberbullying, among others.
"In school shootings, most often somebody knows something ahead of time," said Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts. "It's about us working together, from schools to mental health ... to the FBI. How are they going to help us and vise versa?"
FBI Special Agent in Charge Renn Cannon said that while it's tough to figure out how to prevent an act of violence, there's different ways to mitigate these threats. He said that often if a troubled individual is connected with services at the right time, "it can make all the difference in the world."
"We want to encourage folks, if you see something, say something," Cannon said. "There's great things going on in Oregon. There are things being prevented. I think a lot of it is people being concerned and trying to do the right thing."
From September to November, SafeOregon received 124 tips and after the current quarter just ended, from December to February, they received 318, with the "Threat to Safety" category rising by 11 percent of the total tips.
Ludwig encouraged families to start by looking at the district's new safety/security website, www.wlwv.k12.or.us/domain/2549, where people can find in-depth information on emergency preparedness, student support systems, environmental safety and health, operational safety, digital safety and a three-tiered safety review process to learn who responds to certain types of incidents.
People can also submit safety concerns and comments on the website.
"(We want) parents to know we have a process, a three-tiered approach to how we talk about these types of things, think through them and make decisions involving a whole bunch of people," said WL-WV Communications Director Andrew Kilstrom. "Getting all this in one place on the website has been helpful for staff, but hopefully for families too. We hope people read over that, learn it, know it, talk to their students about it so we're all on the same page."