WL-WV safety meeting allows for positive discussion
Representatives from primary and secondary schools in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District shared recommendations for improving school safety with school board members and administration last week.
During the West Linn-Wilsonville Board Safety Advisory Committee Meeting Thursday, Sept. 14, committee members shared common themes regarding student safety in response to active threats. Both groups wanted classroom door locks that can be locked from the inside, adequate supplies and emergency tools in classrooms.They were also looking for assurance that threats, protocols and procedures are being properly communicated to parents and more work is being done around mental health.
The primary and secondary advisory committees — comprised of students, parents and teachers — were formed at the end of the 2017-18 school year in response to school safety concerns after the most recent school shooting in Florida.
Committee members — who will serve a minimum of six months, no longer than a year, and will dissolve by April 30, 2019 — met over the summer to analyze district schools to identify areas where safety could be improved. The groups prioritized their top concerns and recommendations to present to board chair Ginger Fitch, school board member Chelsea Martin and WL-WV Superintendent Kathy Ludwig in a circle discussion before a formal school board meeting addresses the topic in October.
The primary committee focused on emergency preparedness.
If a threat happened on school grounds, both committees want the classroom doors to have the ability to lock from the inside. Primary committee members wanted to ensure that exterior gates and doors are able to shut and lock automatically. Other recommendations included making sure safety features like video cameras and safe entryways are installed at all primary schools (not just newer schools), evacuation routes are reviewed for safety, safety glass is installed on all windows at the main entry of primary schools, and that there's training and communication for check-in and check-out procedures during before- and after-school activities.
They also want to see increased mental health services for families in need and access to that information, access to outside experts and a system for staff to flag students with potential mental health issues.
"(It's important that we're) giving the teachers our support, following those students from year-to-year so the teacher doesn't have to start off unsupported, so they have an outside third-party person helping with access to specialist issues, and starting in primary schools — not waiting until it's become such an egregious problem," said Kim Jordan, primary committee member. "Mental health was a big topic for us."
Ludwig did want to note that a part-time mental health professional was brought on board this year to address needs at primary schools.
Mental health was also a major topic shared by the secondary committee. West Linn High School senior Wallace Milner said although the mental health setup in schools is an area where WL-WV is strongest right now, there's more that can be done.
"We thought increased communication with teachers and with students would allow us to help identify the problems — if there are any — within our school's climate: What's stressing students out? What's making them feel isolated? What do they need help with?" Milner said.
Milner and his group also added that after the Columbine High School massacre, Colorado developed a more comprehensive model than the SafeOregon Tip Line — which gives students an outlet to report potential threats. Milner suggested the school district look into Colorado's model, which allows the uploading of pictures and social media posts, and has more resources.
Another recommendation the secondary committee brought to light was the addition of emergency tools in the classroom.
"At the moment in my classroom I have a clipboard with student rosters to take roll in an evacuation and a little baggy with gloves, gauze and some Band-Aids," said Brittany Armstrong, Wilsonville High School teacher, adding that classrooms should be equipped with emergency supply backpacks, water, food and emergency toilets — buckets filled with cat litter. "If there ever was an actual emergency where we couldn't leave the classroom for a significant period of time, I'm relatively unprepared with first-aid supplies."
The secondary committee also talked about adding active shooter protocols in schools and adding sleeves and ramparts — additional tools to help classroom doors act as a barricades, securing door closure.
The purpose of the evening was for board representatives and Ludwig to hear the recommendations and then further discuss the committee's concerns at the Oct. 22 school board meeting.
"This is falling in a season where we have just adopted a fourth district goal. Our fourth district goal is around long range financial planning for the district and looking at the future of our students. Incorporated in that is bond discussions: Are we ready? If we did a bond, what would be part of that? How much?" Fitch said. "We've gotten this community voice about safety issues and some of the things you've presented are things that would have to be funded outside our normal budget. ... I want to assure you on many levels, your work is being taken in and will be taken in as we discuss (this further) at the board level and at the district level."