Mixed Results for Oregon School Safety Threat Drills

In Oregon’s largest school district, only two of nine high schools met the requirements of a state law that says campuses must hold two “safety threat” drills each year.  In the wake of recent school shootings around the United States (74 since the beginning of 2013 according to website Everytown), these drills are meant to prepare students for such an event in their own school.

Many Portland-area schools are holding “lockdown team responses” in place of drills, where classroom activities continue as normal while a staff team responds to the threat, writes Nick Budnick for The Oregonian.

Rep. Betty Komp, the lawmaker, said Portland’s use of lockdown team responses that are confined to school staff “certainly does not qualify” under the law, which explicitly is intended to train students in what to do.

The statute says drills such as lockdowns exist so “students can respond to an emergency without confusion or panic.”

Portland school district officials claim the team responses are an effective use of an already shortened school year.

According to statistics from the Bureau of Justice, 1 in every 4.5 million school children between the ages of 5-18 dies from homicide each year at school, on the way there, or on the way home.  That’s relatively 10-30 children per year.

And Oregon is no exception.

On June 10, a shooter entered Reynolds High School and opened fire, killing one student, and then eventually himself, reported Dana Ford for CNN.  Thanks to a teacher’s quick thinking, the school was put on lockdown and police were notified before more were hurt.

Because of the law and the safety threat drills, the students knew what to do when the lockdown was put into effect.

“Without the quick and well-executed response, this tragedy could have been much worse,” the Reynolds School District said in a statement.

Portland Association of Teachers president Gwen Sullivan noted the importance of the lockdown drills in the Reynolds incident, mentioning that teacher’s contracts allow for even more safety training that what is being currently provided.

Speaking about Todd Rispler, the gym teacher whose quick acting placed Reynold’s high school on lockdown, Sullivan noted:

“He knew exactly what to do,” Sullivan said. “I would say that given what happened at Reynolds, it could be the difference between life and death.”

For schools in other Oregon school districts, more training is already being seen.  Lincoln County School District performs a fire drill each month, along with one other safety drill.  According to safety manager Sue Graves:

“We do lockdown drills, shelter-in-place drills, room-clear drills. It’s a pretty robust drill schedule,” Graves said.

According to Lori Grisham for USA Today, teachers are becoming better trained at how to discuss these happenings with students, as well as look for the warning signs of events to come.

“The human things we can do are going to be much more effective than the technology or bringing in more guns,” said Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council.

Lawmakers plan on adding legislation next year so that school districts cannot misinterpret the law.