Responding to gun violence

School Board plans work session tonight

STUDENT Eva Jones talks after the town hall with Superintendent Dan Goldman.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
STUDENT Eva Jones talks after the town hall with Superintendent Dan Goldman.

“We take the safety of our kids unbelievably seriously,” Hood River County School District School Superintendent Dan Goldman said Monday, decrying the copycat threat made to Hood River Valley High School via social media on Feb. 16.

That threat is one factor in the response being developed by Hood River County School District following the Feb. 14 school slaughter in Florida.

“These times are stressful for our staff, and we take it super seriously. We take the safety of our kids unbelievably seriously.”

— Dan Goldman

The District Board meets in regular session Feb. 28, but the meeting will depart from its planned agenda. Goldman said the board will devote most of its Wednesday meeting to a “School Safety and Crisis Response” work session at Pine Grove School, starting at 6:30 p.m.

“We have some action items we need to take care of, but other than that, we have cleared the agenda and this will be our only discussion item,” Goldman said.

“Personally, I vacillate between intense sadness and anger — and so many other emotions in between,” Goldman said in a letter to parents this week in response to the Feb. 14 shootings in Parkland, Fla. “We know it may also trigger emotional responses among our students, parents, staff and community members, and we will do all we can to support them.”

The Feb. 28 work session will cover prevention systems, facilities and technology, incident response, and a school board policy review. Participants will include district administrators, building principals, and school construction officials along with Sheriff Matt English and staff, county juvenile department, and Deputy Joel Ives, who serves as school resource officer.

Goldman plans to frame the discussion around measures already in place, “and how we are connected, and how prevention connects to intervention, to crisis response, and to policy.

“We’re going to try to help the board and community members understand the whole safety net picture of the district, and inform board members, in their roles as liaison to community,” he said. “It’s also important we have our law enforcement partners at the table.”

Goldman spoke out against the proposal to arm teachers, an idea President Donald Trump has pushed for.

“When you talk to students about this, and several have come up to me about it, they hate that idea,” Goldman said. “Our students don’t, and I don’t think our teachers want it.

“I don’t understand how adding more weapons into an environment makes it safer, personally,” Goldman said. “I know there are people who feel differently, but if we arm staff we have to consider so many things — insurance, training, and what it will cost.

“There are so many variables. I don’t believe adding guns on the hips of people adds to student learning.

“We have a full time uniformed sheriff’s deputy who works in our schools every day, and he has a great relationship with our kids, and is there with our kids, and is also a fully armed officer,” noted Goldman. “If we want to have a conversation about school safety, the real question is, how we fund safety and law enforcement and the people who are trained to keep us safe.

“We barely have time for training as it is. And there are questions such as who is going to run the training effort, are we going to issue firearms, and if so what our responsibilities are?

“I am personally supportive of more face time with law enforcement, but when it comes to arming a second-grade teacher, I’m opposed,” Goldman said.

In the letter to parents sent Thursday, Goldman wrote, “We have very strong partnerships with the Hood River County Sheriff's Office, the Hood River Police Department and other local emergency responders. Our collaborative work has been highlighted across the state of Oregon as a best practice model in school safety: we develop procedures together, we practice together, and our communication systems are coordinated.”

The letter began: “All the educators in the Hood River County School District would like to express our deepest, deepest sympathies to staff, students, families and community of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Students and staff in our nation's schools deserve to feel — and be — safe while learning and teaching. In light of yet another school shooting tragedy — and the ensuing copycat social media threat here at home — we know many parents and community members might want additional information about how our schools are working hard to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff. We often state that ‘school safety is our top priority,’ and it truly is.”

Goldman said Hood River Valley High School was one of four high schools in Oregon, along with Portland, Tualatin, and Albany, hit with what he calls “Snapchat Threats” last week following the Parkland school slaughter.

There was no effect on the school’s schedule the next day, but district officials know the traumatic effect it can have on students and staff, and Goldman and administrators were up half the night responding to it.

“It’s very upsetting to people and we take it super seriously,” he said. “When we got that threat, we were up until 1:30 (a.m.) doing investigations, and talking about our plan for the next day, what kind of support to give.”

Goldman said “a stand-up meeting with staff was the first thing we did, developing talking points for staff, expectations for what staff would do with students in first period.”

Teachers all had small lesson plans to go through with students, and there was increased sheriff and Oregon State Police presence on campus.

(Extra OSP personnel were in town as it was the same day as the Eagle Creek sentencing hearing.)

“It is incredibly disappointing for educators across the country that this continues to happen, and as educators we’ve dedicated our lives to kids,” Goldman said.

I want people to know how much time we’re spending on this and all of the planning and preparatory we do every week to set in place planning systems in place.”

Goldman said that in tonight’s meeting, “We’ll talk through how all these agencies are connected, since a lot of it is our communication connection. We will look at how a lot of our facilities are designed or ill-designed for this day and age. These buildings not built or designed for this level of envelope security.”

He said, “We try to keep those communications as close to student relationships with staff as we can. It’s a coordinated staff to student approach.

“We cut time into our school day to have staff create time to talk to kids about safety, how to report something suspicious or if you have any concern around student safety, how to create the community and school you want if you want a safe school. Particularly at the high school we try to empower the kids to create the environment they want.”

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