Durhams open layout concerns parents, teachers

In the wake of two mass shootings last week, one in Clackamas and the other in Newtown, Conn., questions and concerns are being raised about schools in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

On Tuesday, two people were shot and another injured at Clackamas Town Center mall during a shooting spree in the afternoon. Three days later, more than two dozen people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in a Connecticut suburb.

Officials with the Tigard-Tualatin School District said Monday they were looking into possible security concerns across its 17 schools in light of the recent tragedies.

“When something like this happens, you look at everything you do,” district spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon said. “You look at if there is anything more you can do.”

Stark Haydon said each school was looking at its security measures and evaluating what, if anything, could be done to make the schools safer.

Across the district, visitors are required to sign in at the school’s main office and wear an ID badge.

It’s a policy that has been in place for years, but Stark Haydon said schools are re-doubling efforts to make sure every visitor is accounted for. Schools are also doing what they can to make sure students know what to do in an emergency situation.

“The kids are practicing lockdown drills, and we are talking to our staff about being more visible around school, making sure that we follow all the procedures we have and intercepting people when we don’t know who they are,” Stark Haydon said.

The policy is good, in theory, but some parents have become concerned about the layout of some schools, including Tualatin High School, which has entrances from several doors throughout the building, and Durham Elementary School, an “open concept” school that doesn’t have individual classroom doors — which many credit with saving lives after teachers at Sandy Hook were able to lock and barricade doors.

One parent doesn’t feel current safety measures at the school go far enough. “When I read about the heroic teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary, many students’ lives were saved because classroom doors were shut and locked,” the parent told The Times. “It is horrifying to think that if a shooter was in the school, teachers and students would have very limited options to stay safe.”

Durham Elementary classrooms are built into pods, without individual classroom doors. However, the school has emergency fire doors in each hallway, which can be shut at the push of a button in the main office, Stark Haydon said.

“The chances are very likely in an emergency that this button would not get pushed,” the parent said, who asked to remain anonymous. “We cannot rely on one button to save the lives of staff and students at this school.”

District human resources director Ernie Brown said Monday concerned parents contacted the principal, administrators and school board members with similar concerns.

“Durham was a school built in an era when an open classroom concept was the way schools were built,” Brown said.

Durham isn’t the only “open concept” school in the district. Bridgeport Elementary in Tualatin was originally built without classroom doors, Stark Haydon said. The school later had doors installed.

“We could put in classroom doors (at Durham),” Stark Haydon said. “We have had schools before that were open schools that we put doors in.”

The district has already begun looking into what it would take to improve the security at Durham, Stark Haydon said.

Durham Principal Joyce Woods said in a letter to parents that the issue was already being addressed. “This will be approached carefully and thoughtfully, of course, so we won’t have results immediately. That said, I expect feedback fairly soon and will certainly inform you of the outcome.”

Elsewhere across the district, Stark Haydon said, safety committees at each school were looking at improving safety measures.

“We are working to gather items up and, one at a time, assess them and make sure that if we need to update our procedures we can do that in a really thoughtful way,” she said.

Brown said the district would keep the community informed about possible security improvements.

“The fact that we find ourselves here talking about this is very unfortunate, but very important,” Brown said.

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