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School districts forge path on safety

Oregon City School District Superintendent Larry Didway’s poignant and heartfelt words at last week’s School Board meeting (transcribed below) show that there’s a way forward to improve school safety that doesn’t involve the National Rifle Association’s ridiculous suggestion to arm teachers.

North Clackamas and Gladstone school districts have a decades-long relationship with Oregon City schools for crisis response.

We would only add to Didway’s announcement that we hope state and federal lawmakers show the courage to aid in local efforts by passing a ban on the future sale of assault weapons and making other reasonable restrictions on weapons sales, such as banning sales to felons through background checks.

Some of the initial reactions out of this country to last month’s tragedies were outlandish and out of proportion with risk to children. We do not want to turn our schools into prisons.

We look forward to watching the Tri-District Safety Task Force’s work take shape.

Here is Didway’s statement:

As a parent and an educator, I know we’re all forever changed with the recent tragedies at Clackamas Town Center and Sandy Hook Elementary.

That kind of random violence and gore, really—it’s incomprehensible for us, and it absolutely is appropriate for us to respond to that, to really focus some attention on the safety of our children and schools. So I wanted tonight to share with you a little bit about what we have done in response to this and then what is coming.

So our efforts to provide safe learning environments throughout the Oregon City School District really are seeking to prevent what’s in our control and then to prepare to respond to what’s outside of our control. And to provide a safe learning environment, we have provided and developed emergency procedure manuals; we have buildings develop emergency plans for fire, earthquake, lockdown and other kinds of safety threats; we have a well-developed system for risk and threat-of-harm assessments; we have security cameras, although not enough of them; Sonitrol Building Security Systems; well-trained and prepared Crisis Response Teams; and we have a School Resource Officer thanks to and made possible by the city of Oregon City. And we maintain a very close working relationship with our public-safety officials.

But prior to the winter break and in response to these incidents, principals worked to reinforce some standard district safety protocols by ensuring all staff remain on high alert and exercise an increased sense of awareness; that all of our visitors are to sign in at the main office and receive a visitor’s name tag; that all front entrances be monitored and that all auxiliary doors be locked; that all staff wear their district ID badges; and that our principals review with key staff safety plans and protocols, including lock down and emergency response. We also wanted students to be reminded about the importance of immediately reporting to an adult any possible threat to school safety. And then finally just working to increase visibility of supervising adults at school entrances before and after school.

So we know that the very best thing that we can do to reassure students about their own safety is to remind them that school violence is still an extremely rare occurrence, even though it doesn’t feel that way when it’s on the front page and in your living room. But statistically schools still remain, by far, the safest place for kids.

I am very grateful for the professionalism of all our district staff, who really modeled calm and protective demeanors in the aftermath of the traumas that were suffered in December. However, we really know that we cannot be complacent in our efforts to protect our schools and our students, and we have to continually work to assess risks and escalate our responses accordingly.

So in response to these latest events, we’re endeavoring in a partnership with Gladstone and North Clackamas school districts to build upon our long-term relationships that we’ve developed as a Tri-District Crisis Response Team. Superintendents, municipal police chiefs and a representative from Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office will be forming a Tri-District Safety Task Force...and the purpose of that is for us to really conduct security reviews of each and every school and building, and then recommend any changes like entrance security, door locks, window coverings...and then to evaluate our emergency plans. While we have plans, they are not consistent...these three districts share a lot of emergency responders, so it makes sense for us to attempt to do that.

And then we want to identify, as we know there will be, training needs and resources to meet those training needs.

So we hope to have the work of that task force completed prior to spring break, and then turn over the implementation tasks to

local school-district teams that will be developed.

I thought it was important to share an update with not only the board but the public, that this is how we’re responding to this incident and to remind everyone that it is still very much in the front of our thinking.



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