School officials respond to security concerns


Rumors of possible violence after Connecticut incident keep administrators busy

Concerns about campus safety and security dominated the Estacada School District administrative meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

The meeting came less than a week after the Friday, Dec. 14, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 26 people dead, including 20 young children.

Phones at Estacada High School were ringing nonstop as rumors circulated throughout the county and many of its high schools that a shooting was going to take place the following day, on Thursday, Dec. 20.

Howard KetzNo such event occurred, but that wasn’t stopping school officials from taking every possible precaution imaginable to prevent and prepare for a worst case scenario.

“It’s hard not to take these things seriously,” Superintendent Howard Fetz said, adding that the district must try a different approach to enhance student and staff safety.

EHS Principal Scott Sullivan missed much of the administrative meeting, as he was fielding many of those calls from concerned parents.

Although the panic was based largely on rumors that could not be verified, school officials were not taking chances.

Estacada Junior High School Vice Principal Gary Hatcher said parents had been responding positively to extra security measures taken there.

The school officials were joined by Clackamas County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Helmer, who is assigned to the Estacada area. He praised officials’ efforts and pledged to have a constant presence in the town and around its schools.

District business manager Donna Cancio thanked Helmer for the rapid response that the sheriff’s office had during the Clackamas Town Center shooting incident.

Fetz told the assembled administrators that a tour of the district’s schools was planned for the next day so officials could better evaluate the security setup by getting a firsthand look at the layout and exits for each individual building.

Lockdown procedures are already in place, Fetz said, but have taken on new importance in light of all the recent events.

Administrators watched an online video on how to survive an active shooting event. They also approved a letter to go out to parents, staff, school board and community members the next day.

The letter, which was dated Wednesday, Dec. 19, was signed by Fetz.

“We want to inform you of a disturbing rumor that has circulated among students at high schools throughout Clackamas County, claiming that an act of violence will occur tomorrow,” Fetz wrote. “Since last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook School, there have been predictable rumors of violence in schools across Oregon and the nation.”

Fetz wrote that the district is working with the sheriff’s office to investigate the source and credibility of the rumors, and emphasized that they had yet to be verified.

“However, the sheriff’s office will have extra deputies patrolling our schools, and school administration and staff will remain vigilant in monitoring school entrances. We are not intending to alarm you with this notification, but rather to keep you informed and vigilant. We share your concern for your child’s safety, and, as always, respect your right as a parent not to send your child to school any time you believe it might be unsafe.”

Fetz also distributed a threat assessment and management system flow chart to the administrators to clarify what actions to take in different situations.