PORTLAND, Ore. — After 19 kids and two teachers were killed in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a parent asked KGW to look into local school district and police policies in regard to school shootings.
Around the same time, another parent and former Portland Public Schools (PPS) teacher reached out with concerns about school safety.
Erin Savage was a teacher for 17 years, and she still has two daughters who attend elementary school in the district. She said she left the profession right before the pandemic, in part because of concerns over school security in addition to the load teachers must bear to do their jobs.
“They always say, the death by paper cut. Like, it's all those little things that add up that make the job of a teacher so hard," Savade said. It's worrying about kids’ safety. It's worried about, 'are they getting enough to eat.' It's worried about, 'are we making enough progress and growth,'” Savage said.
But she said chief among those concerns was that of safety. Savage spoke to KGW more than four years ago about her efforts to protect students in her second-floor classroom.
She used her own money to purchase a ladder that could be unrolled out of the window if they needed another exit.
Savage said she had recurring nightmares about a school shooting, so she also bought a metal device that allows teachers to lock doors from the inside.
“The dream stopped after that,” said Savage.
But her concerns have not stopped, especially after the most recent school shooting in Texas.
She said the week of the shooting, a man had been able to get access into her daughters’ school twice, apparently in search of things to steal.
Officials at Portland Public Schools said $25.9 million from the 2020 bond has been set aside for school safety improvement.
Molly Romay, senior director of security and emergency services for PPS, said the district takes a multi-layered approach to school safety. There are three areas officials look at: physical security infrastructure, training and systems as well as resources and partnerships.
“As far as our physical security infrastructure, what we’re looking at are controlled access to buildings, our cameras, our mass notification system so that we can notify all building occupants in the event there is a critical incident taking place," said Romay. "In some locations, we've added additional fencing and then with our 2020 approved bond, we'll be installing classroom door locks in all of our classrooms throughout the district."
Dan Jung, PPS’ chief operations officer, said the district checked roughly 10,000 doors at school buildings, and about 2,500 needed some level of hardware improvement.
Romay said interior and exterior surveillance cameras will also be added to school buildings, and intrusion alarms will be upgraded.
When it comes to training and systems, Romay said that includes things like a regular update to the emergency operations plan, a new app released this school year that gives teachers a cliffs notes version of the plan and other emergency drills. The district also relies on resources like counselors, social workers, school psychologists and community partnerships to keep students safe.
In Salem-Keizer Public Schools, there’s a partnership with law enforcement and like PPS, both Salem-Keizer and Beaverton Schools have bond money going toward continued security improvements like secured front-entry spaces, fencing and security cameras.
KGW also asked Portland police what their protocol would be in a school shooting.
Officer Leo Harris with PPB’s training division said responding officers would go inside, find the shooter and stop them as soon as possible.
“I am completely confident that all the officers in this area would respond immediately and do something very appropriately to take action, stop the threat immediately and then start helping to get people critical aid,” said Harris.
Back at PPS, officials said door lock upgrades are expected to be completed by the end of next school year. Savage said she thinks that’s too long of a wait.
“This is the time to retrofit every single door in this whole entire district, not wait until the end of next school year. Let's do it now, while class is not in session,” said Savage.
Last week, PPS upheld its decision to ban weapons on school campuses and also further restrict people with a concealed carry license from carrying a gun on PPS property.
Savage believes that’s a step in the right direction, but it underscores the need for the district to act quickly on security measures, like doors that lock efficiently and reliably.