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PPS, PPB discuss school safety at forum

MULTNOMAH — With the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., last December bringing the issue of school safety measures to the fore throughout the nation and right here in Southwest, representatives from Portland Public Schools convened at a meeting of the Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. Public Safety Committee for a school safety forum.by: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - asdfaf

At the forum, which was held April 4 at the Multnomah Arts Center, Portland Public Schools Director of Security Services George Weatheroy explained that in 2010, PPS received a $600,000 federal grant to come up with an emergency multihazard plan for schools encompassing 39 potential incidents ranging from earthquakes and fires to a shooter in the school.

The plan includes outfitting each classroom with detailed protocols for emergency response in a flipchart, with site-specific emergency response plans for each of the 78 schools in PPS.

Such tailor-made plans have proven both challenging to develop and poignantly necessary, as each school has unique architecture and some have portable classrooms, or portables.

“Suddenly it dawns on you: Maplewood’s got portables. Rieke’s got portables,” said PPS Communication Manager Erin Barnett. “Suddenly you realize how incredibly complicated some of these things are.”

Unlike earthquakes and other natural disasters, incidents such as school shootings could be prevented, according to Weatheroy, Romero and Barnett. And it is their position that the community must strive to ensure that they are.

“A lot of people do reaction,” Weatheroy said, “but prevention, to me, is a huge key.”

According to Weatheroy, a district with effective school safety does not solely react to emergencies but also attempts to prevent them from happening in the first place, “working on creating a culture where every kid, every employee feels a part of the school.”

Prevention efforts ideally should extend to the home as well.

“Teach parents to teach their kids that if you see something suspicious, say something,” Weatheroy urged. “Time after time, after the incident was over, lots of kids knew about (plans for) it.”

He added: “If you see something, say something. That’s the model.”

Another key to school safety is mental health. Weatheroy said that, as someone with a family member diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he knows all too well that it might seem easier said than done. However, he said, “We really need our parents, if they have children that they are concerned about, to get them tested and checked out so we can provide the resources for them.”

Working to ensure safety day-to-day are John Romero and 10 other Portland Police School Resource Officers (SROs). All have been through what is known as advanced active shooter training.

“I think the stuff we’re learning, and the training we’re going through, is top-notch,” said Romero, who serves all schools in the Wilson High School cluster.

He added that striving to sufficiently condition officers for shooter situations is preferable to arming school personnel.

“I am a proponent of guns, I believe in guns, but in schools I don’t think it’s the right thing,” he said.

No matter how immense the task, Barnett said, PPS is determined to do all it can for school safety. After all, she said, “It’s a key part of getting our kids to graduation.”