School district makes security top priority after Parkland shooting
In the wake of a devastating school shooting which left 17 people dead in Parkland, Fla., earlier this month, officials with the Hillsboro School District are preparing for the worst.
As the national conversation about gun violence and mass shootings continues, the Hillsboro School District has been quietly preparing its own strategies for years how it would react and respond should the unthinkable happen at one of its schools.
"Our preparedness and attention to safety is our strength," Superintendent Mike Scott wrote to parents on Feb. 14, "as is our ability to ensure that students, staff, and families are informed and aware of response protocols."
Alex Oh, the head of the district's department of public safety, said the Parkland shooting has brought a lot of questions from parents about school safety locally.
"There has been a lot of talk, a lot of uncertainty and a lot of apprehension," Oh told the Tribune this week. "But it's nice to have the discussion. It's good to have dialogue. We're having a good healthy dialogue right now with our own community, the administration and the students."
Oh said keeping students safe is an ever-evolving process that takes constant vigilance.
"There's no magic bullet that makes our kids safe," he said. "We have to prepare and have procedures. We have to be plugged in with our first responders and with our community."
For years, Oh has served on assessment teams with the district, which investigates threats made against schools and students. The district employs campus monitors at each of its middle and high schools, as well as care teams to focus on individual students in need of help. Hillsboro Schools have nine school resource officers, who help monitor schools, and employ evening security guards to patrol the district's campuses after dark.
"People would be amazed at how many resources the district puts out when it comes to the safety of our kids," Oh said. "Any of these programs, where we can get eyes on kids and their families and help them with resources, these are the programs that really pay dividends in the end, when it comes to school safety."
Oh has seen how police and the school district prepare from both sides. Oh served with the Hillsboro Police Department for years before coming to the school district last September when the district launched its own in-house security department, which operates the Hillsboro School District police department.
"We here in Hillsboro are lucky," he said. "The relationship we have with Hillsboro police is unique and it afforded us a leg up on training and preparation for major incidents."
Schools conduct safety drills regularly, including lockdown scenarios in the event of an active shooter on school grounds, according Hillsboro schools spokeswoman Beth Graser.
"Though it's difficult to ever fully prepare for a sudden act of extreme violence at a school, HSD is considered a leader in this area," Graser said. "We have cultivated a strong partnership with local law enforcement and emergency service providers to plan and drill on a variety of safety scenarios at our schools, including the potential of an active shooter."
Graser said school administrators go through scenario training and planning during all-administrator meetings throughout the year, and the district holds regular trainings with administrators and key school personnel.
The district tries to run drills for every scenario, Oh said.
"We want to run through an entire protocol to make sure we have a mental file created to do the best we can do in such hectic, large-scale event," he said. "Those drills are difficult to pull off, and take a lot of resources, but the city and the school district have been proactive."
The death of more than a dozen staff and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14 has sparked student walkouts at schools across the country next month to protest school violence. Graser said the district will provide students with "alternative opportunities" to discuss ideas and questions about school safety to keep students in class instead of marching.
In the days since the Florida shooting, President Donald Trump has suggested arming certain teachers within schools as a deterrent to stop shooters from targeting children. The proposal has been met with criticism from many within the education community, including Hillsboro School District.
"For a wide variety of reasons, this is not something we feel would be effective or advisable," Graser told the Tribune this week.