By Midge Pierce
The needle drop-box positioned on the fence in front of the Sunnyside K-8 school is a sign of the times, and while the park the school shares with the community (and sometimes vagrants) is unusual, drug paraphernalia on playgrounds gives parents, and all Portland residents, pause.
The list of PPS worries is long: stagnant test scores, large class sizes, environmental and earthquake threats and the long shadow cast last spring by Parkland.
Parents of kindergartners coming from preschools with locked and coded doors face particular alarm at the open entries adjacent to their five-year-olds’ classrooms.
More shock comes when they learn of lockdown drills during the first few weeks of school.
Some ease of mind came in a recent letter to the PPS Community about security enhancements to make school perimeters more secure and control access to school buildings.
Installations will include video intercoms, system override buttons to provide automatic “lockout” control, additional public address systems, speakers in hallways and more fencing and gates if needed. Electronic screeners are not on the list.
Some schools may already have enhancements. Timelines for those that don’t will vary depending on perceived urgency and geographical bundling of construction to control costs.
Schools with poor line of sight to front doors from offices (of which there are several in SE) will get higher priority. An estimated $5 million will come from a 2017 voter approved bond.
As for arming teachers, this was never seriously considered at PPS. During last spring’s student walkouts for peace, a more frequent outcry was, “Arm teachers with pencils, not guns.”
Although state regs have indicated that to keep guns out of schools, specific signage is required, no SE Portland schools visited had such signage. By contrast, no smoking signs are posted prominently.
Individual schools already tackle problems with common sense. At Richmond Elementary, for instance, a more stringent sign-in policy is being implemented.
At Sunnyside, principal Amy Kleiner says the drop boxes are working well and no safety or waste issues have been reported since students came back in late August.
She says the Sunnyside Community Center across from the school serves needs of those impacted by housing issues, while working to keep the neighborhood safe and clean.
“We have a partnership with this program and make meals for them on Wednesdays with our middle school kids.” Then she adds, “Of course, the horror of last spring’s horrific shooting haunt the halls of some area schools.”
Public schools may always have vulnerabilities, given open campuses and front door policies that many believe make schools more welcoming.
Last month as children filed back, however, lost books and the occasional cut or bruise seemed the most pressing problems in busy front offices.
At Atkinson Elementary, where school crossings on congested Division and backups on 60th are a keen worry, one administrator said, “I could live with fear or optimism. I choose optimism.”