Local school districts are alert after Florida shooting

The halls at Nyssa High School were quiet last week, just the way school officials want to keep it. Local school districts are required by the state to conduct safety drills to prepare students and teachers for an active shooter incident. (The Enterprise/John L. Braese)

ONTARIO – Ontario High School senior Abbey Wood said she feels safe when she goes to school.

Her principal, Jodi Elizondo, said that secure feeling is good news but she isn’t taking any chances in the future. Especially after the latest school shooting where 17 people died at Florida high school two weeks ago.

School safety isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law in Oregon.

State schools must conduct emergency drills – for fire, earthquakes and safety threats – each year.

Most local schools conduct safety training on a regular basis, though one – Four Rivers Community School – does not.   

Schools in Oregon are mandated to perform two drills on safety threats each year along with 30 minutes of emergency instruction monthly during the school year. They are also required to report to the Oregon Department of Education that they’ve done the drills.

Elizondo said at Ontario High, preparing for the worst is a priority.

“We do all kinds of drills all year long,” said Elizondo.

Elizondo said the school shooting in Florida prompted her to re-evaluate existing safety procedures.

“This is the beginning of us taking a fresh look at what we are doing and see if we are doing all we can,” said Elizondo.

After the Florida shooting, Ontario Superintendent Nicole Albisu addressed all parents in a letter.

She reminded parents that anyone visiting an Ontario school must have a visitor’s badge and that those without will be stopped by staff. The letter also reminded parents school counselors could help deal with fears of their children.

Albisu said the district’s schools are equipped with surveillance cameras, lockout features and doors lockable from the inside.

The district does hold drills throughout the year featuring different scenarios. These include fire, earthquake, lockout and lockdown drills.

“We will be conducting additional training for staff in regards to active shooter and school safety,” Albisu said. 

Elizondo said she met with Ontario Police Department officers last week to discuss security measures. Elizondo said school officials would continue to examine existing active-shooter procedures. 

“We are going to be getting staff input and we will have to speak to students and I imagine there will be a fair amount of education we will have to do,” said Elizondo.

Wood, student body president, said she doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about a school shooting.

“I know if there was ever an issue, there are people to talk to – teachers, the SRO. I think they do a really good job of trying to catch that kind of thing,” said Wood.

Wood said she hasn’t heard a lot of concern about the issue from fellow students.

“I know people have been talking about it but not, ‘Oh, my goodness I’m afraid it will happen here,’” said Wood.

March for Our Lives, a group created by survivors of the Florida shooting, will stage a nationwide walkout of school students on Saturday, March 24, but Wood said she hadn’t heard of anyone at Ontario High planning to participate.

Wood said the specter of a school shooting doesn’t haunt her.

“It could happen anywhere but it is not something I go to school thinking about. The only time I thought about it is when I see it on the news, but not in the context of my school,” said Wood.

Elizondo said securing her school is not simple.

“You are constantly trying to balance what you need to do for kids with the understanding you have to be a welcoming place for the community and your students,” said Elizondo.

School safety, Elizondo said, is a balancing act.

“We don’t want to look like or feel like that it is so unsafe that we have to go through all of these measures to be here. But we also don’t want to be naïve,” said Elizondo.

Elizondo said training and coordination with local police is also important. She said, however, that school shootings are a reality now.

“You are not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube with school shootings,” said Elizondo.

Willowcreek Elementary School held a lockdown and lockout drill the day after the Florida shooting.

“The drill had been planned in advance and it was simply a coincidence that the drill was conducted on the day of the Florida tragedy,” said Alisha McBride, Vale School District superintendent.

McBride said the district uses established protocols to respond to emergencies.

A lockout means securing a school perimeter and safeguarding students and staff inside.

A lockdown is used for one classroom, with doors locked, lights out and students out of sight.

Evacuation is used to clear a particular part of a building of students and staff.

Vale is gathering information to join the rest of Malheur County’s school districts in the SafeOregon tip line. The state service provides students, parents, school staff, community members and law enforcement a way to report and respond to threats.

Under SafeOregon, anyone can report any time a tip of possible threats.

According to state officials, SafeOregon received 174 tips from January to June 2017. Most were sent online and 2 percent were judged critical.

Four Rivers Community School officials said the school has plans in place for an evacuation and lock down on the school in case of an active shooter, but has never completed a practice drill.

Chelle Robbins, school superintendent, said the board was scheduled to discuss school safety at its meeting Thursday, March 22.

She said one step is to secure the Ontario school’s front door while allowing access to the business office.

Robbins said the school recently signed up for SafeOregon and is awaiting state materials before presenting the program to staff.

The Nyssa School District joined SafeOregon last year and currently has posters in the schools.

“Students were trained on how to use the line,” said Superintendent Jana Iverson.

In January, Nyssa Elementary School initiated a lockout when wanted person was in the area and seen by a student on the playground. The person was off school property. Only the elementary school was placed on lockout status.

In all Nyssa schools, lockout and lockdown drills are alternated monthly, according to Iverson.

Adrian School District Superintendent Kevin Purnell said Adrian Schools do lockout and lockdown drills two or three times a year.

School officials from Harper and Jordan Valley didn’t respond to requests for information about their safety procedures.

Have a news tip? Contact reporters Pat Caldwell and John L. Braese at (541) 473-3377.

Correction: The Willowcreek Elementary School drill was conducted the day after the Florida high school shooting. An earlier version incorrectly stated it was on the same day.