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Schools can be made safer

Our Opinion

As of this writing, a sweet-looking 7-year-old boy with spectacles was still missing in Portland - and no one was saying much about the possible reasons.

With that in mind, this is no time to speculate about who is at fault for Kyron Horman's disappearance. And it is with fading hope - but still hope - that we wish for his emergence from either the woods that surround Skyline Elementary School or from whatever other shadowy place he has been held in secret for the past six days.

Officials with Portland Public Schools have done many things right as they grappled in recent days with the worst nightmare that a school, parent or community could imagine. But without casting blame - such an easy practice for those of us who use hindsight as our guide - it's also clear that schools in general, within PPS and elsewhere, have yet to catch up with the rest of society in their enforcement of basic security precautions.

Inconsistent practices

Whatever scenario you consider for young Kyron - whether he wandered off on his own, was grabbed by a stranger or snatched by someone he knew - the investigation of his disappearance could have been accelerated with the help of procedures and technologies that ought to be easily within reach. As has been widely reported, Skyline school hasn't been required - until after Friday - to notify parents when a child doesn't show up for class. That's a practice to be implemented right away at all schools, something that the Portland district is now doing.

Then there's the question of building security. Again, we don't know if someone wandered onto Skyline's school grounds, but we do know that schools have inconsistent practices when it comes to the care they take in guarding their doors and playgrounds. Based on our own experiences while covering school news, it is relatively easy to walk into some schools unnoticed, while others are more diligent about making sure everyone signs in and receives a badge.

Technologies that would increase safety are not hard, or even all that expensive, to acquire. Everyone is accustomed to video surveillance in bank lobbies - where the only thing at stake is money. But when it comes to protecting something more valuable - our children - do we really think it's too expensive to install a few cameras around campus? At the very least, cameras could have aided police in their investigation of the mystery surrounding Kyron's disappearance.

Doors that automatically lock from the outside are standard at many businesses and schools, but they aren't always kept secure.

Better communication

We also think it is time for schools to implement an e-mail, text messaging, cell phone and website notification system to immediately notify and robustly communicate with parents and entire school communities in the event of a missing student, safety incident on campus or perceived danger in a school neighborhood. Many universities and colleges have employed such procedures for some time. But have Portland schools done the work necessary to avail themselves of these communication tools?

Certainly, there is a cost in equipment and time to make schools more secure. But we don't believe they are onerous costs. Nor should schools continue to operate as if the world hasn't changed around them.

It may turn out that there was nothing Skyline School could have done to prevent what happened to Kyron Horman, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't consider the possibilities and implement effective procedures to make all Portland- area schools safer.